1. Douglas Has Career Day: With so many of Atlanta’s playmakers out, Sunday’s game against the Bucs was the kind of game the Falcons could have lost and injuries would have been a good excuse. Without Julio Jones, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the odds were stacked against them, but the Falcons went out and secured a 31-23 win behind a career day from Harry Douglas. The sixth-year wide receiver ended up with seven catches for 149 yards and one touchdown and he was the big-play catalyst the Falcons needed with Jones out for the year and White and Jackson inactive. Douglas was on the receiving end of the Falcons’ three longest plays of the day (a 54-yard reception, a 37-yard TD and a 26-yard reception) and tight end Tony Gonzalez said none of this should be news: ”I hope you’re not surprised by what Harry did today. He’s definitely a capable person. With Julio Jones and Roddy White (out there) your chances of going out there and making those plays go down because those guys are making all the plays. Harry played great for us today. He’s just another weapon.”
Douglas knew he would have more opportunities in this week’s game with all of the injuries, but he didn’t do anything differently. Earlier in the week he said he would just continue to play his game and take advantage of the matchups when he could. Although he was lined up against Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis at times, Douglas managed to win his matchups more often than not. The challenge of being the Falcons’ top receiving option was something Douglas was ready for: “I’m the type of person I’ll never shy away from (a challenge). Julio went down and Roddy wasn’t playing, I wanted the challenge. I’ve always been that way my whole life.”
2. Rodgers Continues to Roll: The theme of the day was players stepping in for injured stars. With Jackson out in the backfield, Jacquizz Rodgers stepped in and picked up the slack. Although the Falcons only managed 18 yards rushing, running back Jacquizz Rodgers took the short passing game and turned it into a deadly weapon. Rodgers caught eight passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns, a 19-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter and an 8-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a 31-17 lead. Rodgers said the Falcons wanted to continue to improve inside the red zone this week and they did just that, scoring on two of their three opportunities. The second score, the screen, looked like a broken play but quarterback Matt Ryan managed to dump off the pass to Rodgers who found daylight and the end zone. Rodgers said it was a tight squeeze in there and Ryan was excellent getting the ball to him: ”It was a tight fit. Matt Ryan did a good job fitting it in there because it was tight, but then it was a walk-in (score).”
3. Young Players Fill Crucial Roles: This season the Falcons have had to lean on many of their young players much more than they anticipated and this week they came through for them. The Falcons found contributions in the passing game from Drew Davis and Darius Johnson and on defense, Robert Alford, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow played valuable snaps. Bartu ended the game with a team-leading 10 tackles, 1/2 sack and one QB hit. Alford added two pass defenses and Worrilow chipped in four tackles. Alford and first-round pick Desmond Trufant appear to be gaining confidence from the coaching staff. When the defense moved to sub-packages, the trio of corners on the field included Alford and veteran Asante Samuel on the outside and Trufant manning the slot.
Johnson, who was elevated to the 53-man roster on Saturday, had two catches for 24 yards and said Sunday was a day he’d been dreaming about since he was a kid. Johnson was the Falcons’ preseason sensation, earning a spot on the practice squad. The wide receiver said the experience he got in the preseason helped him out on Sunday: “You’re not really sure going into the NFL. Those preseason games I was able to get my feet wet and experience what the NFL is like. I think it prepared me well for this.”
4. Conflicting Stats: The Falcons got the win they were looking for, but things didn’t go flawlessly on the day. One area where the Falcons defense wasn’t so good was on fourth down. Despite limiting the Bucs to 1-for-4 inside the red zone and 5-for-17 on third down, the Falcons D allowed three fourth-down conversions and one that was converted for a touchdown before being called back due to a Tampa penalty.
5. Mighty Matt: The storyline of the day may have been the Falcons depth players having to step in and step up, but one of their most consistent producers had another day of dominating efficiency. Without his usual weapons on offense, quarterback Matt Ryan kept the Falcons offense moving, completing 20 of his 26 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns with a QB rating of 148.4. They were short-handed and got little impact from the running game, but Ryan still managed to complete passes to five different receivers. Head coach Mike Smith said Ryan and the offense relied on the strengths of the players on the field: “I thought we put together a very good plan to utilize the strengths of our players. I thought the coaching staff did a great job. Matt distributed the ball very well. I believe he was close to 150 in his quarterback rating in the ballgame, and he did a very good job distributing it to our playmakers.”