ATLANTA - Missing his two top wide receivers, Matt Ryan looked elsewhere and found a much-needed victory for the disappointing Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns to lead the Falcons to a 31-23 win over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Jacquizz Rodgers caught two touchdown passes from Ryan, and Harry Douglas stepped up into the role of the go-to receiver with a big performance.
Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, making his first NFL start on the road, threw two touchdown passes to Vincent Jackson, but didn't have enough to help the Bucs overcome a 17-point first-half deficit.
"We needed it," said Ryan of the win. "All week, I thought preparation was very, very good. Guys were locked in. I thought as a team we came out and played a very solid football game. We made some mistakes but overcame them and made enough plays to get it done."
At this point, these two NFC South rivals have more in common than most would have believed before the season. After hosting the NFC Championship Game last season, the Falcons (2-4) have been ravaged by injuries to key players. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones missed Sunday's game. Veteran running back Steven Jackson, the team's key offseason acquisition, has missed the majority of the last four games. The Falcons made due on Sunday, with Douglas and Rodgers taking advantage of their opportunities.
Douglas set a career-high in receiving yards with 149 and caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ryan that put the Falcons up 24-7 with 5:40 left in the first half. Rodgers scored on a 19-yard swing pass from Ryan in the first half, and an 8-yard middle screen early in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 31-14.
"We wanted to come out here and get a win to start the streak that we're trying to go on," Douglas said. "When Julio went down and Roddy wasn't going to play, I wanted the challenge. I've always been like that my whole life. This was huge, a great win. We're going to try to feed off this."
What the Falcons said
"It was great going against (Darrelle) Revis and talking to him a little bit during the game. He's a great corner. He's still an outstanding player and, I think, the best corner in the NFL." -- Wide receiver Harry Douglas
What the Bucs said
"It's not like people are quitting and consciously not finishing. It's little things that are adding up. No matter what the record says, we've got a good team." -- Linebacker Mason Foster
What we learned about the Falcons
--The Falcons miss running back Steven Jackson dearly. The veteran back, who was brought into bolster the Falcons' ground game, has missed the majority of the last four games with a hamstring injury. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for only 30 yards rushing against the Buccaneers.
--Matt Ryan has solidified himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, and with a franchise passer around, Atlanta isn't going to disappear from the AFC South race. Without his top two receivers and his starting running back, Ryan posted one of his quarterback ratings of his career. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against a Tampa Bay secondary that features Darrelle Revis and two stellar safeties.
What we learned about the Buccaneers
--Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano is squarely on the hot seat and appears to be feeling it. Since Thanksgiving of last season, the Bucs are 1-11. And penalties are playing a significant role in their struggles."It's easy to just say don't make penalties," said Schiano. "But it's not that simple. It's a collective coaching and playing issue that we have to get fixed."
--Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is still a work in progress, but he did show some promise despite losing meal-ticket RB Doug Martin (shoulder) to an injury. He made some nice plays with his legs and also showed the willingness to push the ball down the field. Glennon spun out of a near sack and scrambled for 15 yards and a first down on a third-and-12 in the third quarter.