A – Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan bounced back nicely from his 5-interception game. He finished with 353 yards passing as he completed 26 of 32 passes and one interception. He had a 110.0 passer rating. It was Ryan’s sixth 300-yard game of the season, which ties his own franchise record set in 2011. Ryan posted a passer rating above 100 for the ninth time this season. The Falcons are now 30-1 when his pass rating is 100 or more.
B — Running backs: In a move that stunned some, the Falcons came out determined to run the ball at the No. 1 ranked run defense. It was a bold move that paid some dividends. The Falcons knew they couldn’t be one dimensional. The Falcons ran the ball eight times on their opening 12-play drive. Michael Turner had four carries for 14 yards and Jacquizz Rodgers had four carries for 32 yards. Those 46 yards were more than half what the Bucs had been yielding per game. The Falcons finished the game with 24 rushes for 79 yards (3.3 per carry) and Rodgers and Turner both scored rushing touchdowns. The Bucs entered the game giving up 81.8 yards per game. Turner had 13 carries for 17 yards. Rodgers finished with 49 yards on 10 carries.
B – Receivers: With a bad wheel, Julio Jones put on a show. Jones finished with six catches for 147 yards. His 80-yard scoring reception put the Falcons up 17-13 with 8:26 left in the third quarter. The Bucs concentrated on Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as neither of the veterans scored. White caught five passes for 57 yards and Gonzalez five for 62 yards. The running backs – Jason Snelling (3), Turner (3) and Rodgers (2) – chipped in with eight catches for 76 yards.
C – Offensive line: The line was battling in the run game. The Falcons want to run it efficiently and arguably did that against the Bucs. Cornerback E.J. Biggers, who came on a blitz had the only sack. The unit can use this game to build on as they’ll have to run the ball better down the stretch and are getting more comfortable with Rodgers, the second-year back, who broke loose for a 20-yard gain, the Falcons longest of the game.
B – Defensive line: The defensive line got penetration against the Bucs when they were trying to run the football. Kroy Biermann had a hustle sack. The line played a big part in keeping the blockers off of the linebackers against the Buccaneers vaunted running game. They helped to hold running back Doug Martin to just 50 yards on 21 carries and a 2.4 yard per carry average. Entering Sunday’s game, Martin had totaled 1,000 yards on 197 carries with a 5.1 yard per carry average. Tampa entered the game averaging 128.9 rush yards per game, which ranked ninth in the NFL.
B – Linebackers: Stephen Nicholas led the Falcons with seven tackles. Sean Weatherspoon, who returned after missing the games, chipped in with six tackles. Mike Peterson had a big stop on Martin that forced a field goal attempt. Akeem Dent also had four tackles and one tackle for a loss.
B – Defensive backs: Dunta Robinson had arguably his best game of the season. He was strong in run support with six tackles. He also had a sack, two tackles for losses and one quarterback hit. Asante Samuel played through his right shoulder injury, but was upset with two dropped interceptions. He knocked down the Hail Mary pass. Samuel said his shoulder felt like it was “on fire” after the game. Safety William Moore was also strong in run support with six tackles.
B – Specials teams: Cliff Matthews, Antone Smith and Drew Davis all had special teams tackles to hold down Tampa Bay’s return game. Kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goal attempts, including a troubling 22 yarder at the halftime buzzer. Punter Matt Bosher had one punt of 45 yards.
A-plus – Coaching: The Falcons have won seven games this season by seven points or less. That’s coaching.
NEXT UP: The Falcons (10-1) face the New Orleans Saints (5-6) at 8:20 p.m. Thursday night at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons can wrap up their second NFC South title in the last three seasons with a victory over the Saints and a Tampa Bay loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The Falcons would have a five game lead over Tampa Bay with four to play. They’ll have to keep playing to stay in front of San Francisco (8-2-1) and Chicago (8-3) for the No. 1 seed.
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