Based on a solid opening performance that ended in a victory, the Atlanta Falcons are hoping they have found their quarterback of the future.
This weekend, at least, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to play without their signal-caller of the present.
The Falcons will look to build upon their impressive Week 1 win on Sunday, when Tampa Bay opens its home schedule trying to avoid an 0-2 start - with Jeff Garcia on the sidelines.
Matt Ryan’s NFL career started off on an ideal note last Sunday, when he threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on his first attempt and the Falcons went on to beat Detroit 34-21 in coach Mike Smith’s Atlanta debut.
Ryan, the third overall pick out of Boston College in this year’s draft, signed a six-year, $72 million contract before the season. He only attempted 13 passes in his debut, but completed nine of them for 161 yards without an interception.
“He didn’t seem like a rookie,” running back Michael Turner said. “He took control of the huddle. He made all the right calls. He was a real drill sergeant out there. He was letting everyone know he was in control.”
Turner had an even better debut with Atlanta, as the former backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego wasted no time breaking the franchise record for single-game rushing yards with 220 on just 22 carries. He also scored a pair of touchdowns, legitimizing talk that he had been among the NFL’s best backups in recent seasons.
The Falcons’ 318 rushing yards as a team came against a Detroit defense that allowed more yards than any other last season, and things figure to be a bit different against Tampa Bay.
The Bucs allowed fewer yards than any other NFC team last season and were one of three teams to hold opponents under 300 yards per game.
“We’re an offense that needs to be taken seriously,” Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli told his team’s official Web site. “People don’t believe that but they’re going to have to start believing that if we show them over and over again what we can do.”
They’ll have to do it against a Tampa Bay team that badly wants its first victory.
The defending NFC South champions were the only club in that division to lose in Week 1, falling 24-20 last Sunday at New Orleans. The Bucs had a late chance at a victory until Garcia threw an interception inside the Saints’ 20-yard line in the final minute.
Garcia has been dealing with a calf strain and a jammed finger since the preseason, and now has a sprained ankle. Coach Jon Gruden announced Wednesday that his starter against Atlanta will be Brian Griese, who went 9-7 in 16 starts for the Bucs in the 2004-05 seasons before spending the last two years with Chicago.
“Jeff right now is not himself,” Gruden told his team’s official Web site. “We’re going to give him a week off and try to get him ready to go. Brian Griese’s a guy that’s had a good training camp. We’re going to give Brian the ball and we’ll rally around him.”
Making things more complicated is the potential absence of defensive stalwart Derrick Brooks, who has started at linebacker every game for the Bucs since 1995. After missing parts of the second half last Sunday with a hamstring strain, the 35-year-old Brooks is considered questionable.
While the defense scored against New Orleans on Phillip Buchanon’s interception return for a touchdown, the unit also gave up a number of big plays, as New Orleans scored three touchdowns on passes of at least 39 yards.
“We had six or seven series in a row where we were very impressive and we uncharacteristically gave up the big play,” Gruden said. “Hopefully it gets everybody’s attention and we can do a lot better than that.”
The Bucs are looking to bounce back from an opening-week loss for the second straight year. Of the 69 teams that have started 0-2 since 2000, only six have made the playoffs.
“Your back is up against the wall every day in this league,” Gruden said.
Gruden’s teams have typically played well against the Falcons, as the Bucs are 8-4 against Atlanta since the coach took over in 2002. That includes a season sweep last year, when Tampa Bay won the two games by a combined 68-10.
The Bucs went 6-2 in the regular season at Raymond James Stadium last year, but their last memory at home was a bad one. They lost 24-14 in the wild-card round to the New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.