1) Big Plays Lead the Way: Coming into Sunday’s game, big plays had been a problem this season for the Falcons defense. Injuries forced inexperienced players into starting roles and while they’ve progressed each week this season, they’ve been prone to allowing explosive plays. They allowed 297 yards last week on 10 plays and the trend continued this week with five plays of 20 yards or more allowed by the Falcons defense and many of them directly resulted in touchdowns for Tampa. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson’s 47-yard catch in the second quarter set up a 43-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey three plays later. A 20-yard completion in the second quarter set up a 3-yard TD run by Rainey. In the third quarter, another big pass to Jackson, this time for 53 yards, put Tampa in position for a 4-yard touchdown catch by Rainey, his third TD of the day, giving Tampa a 31-6 lead.
Normally a sound group, Atlanta’s special teams gave up their share of plays in Sunday’s loss as well. They failed to recover an onside kick in the second quarter, an attempt made by Tampa after the 43-yard score by Rainey. In the third quarter, Matt Bosher’s punt was blocked, giving Tampa great field position at Atlanta’s 20. The Bucs would later score.
2) Run Defense Continues Struggles: The Falcons run defense has given up their share of plays this season, but entering Sunday’s game, they were not the worst and far from the best against the run. Atlanta was ranked 21st in the league allowing 123.2 yards per game, but against Tampa, they allowed the run game to open up everything for their opponent. The Bucs established the run early and stuck with it behind Rainey, who gained 163 of Tampa’s 186 rushing yards. Rainey scored two of Tampa’s touchdowns on the ground and added another as a receiver, serving as Tampa’s driving force on offense against the Falcons. In total, Rainey had 167 all-purpose yards and three scores.
3) Wrong-Sided Turnovers: Turnovers haven’t been friendly to the Falcons this season. While they’ve forced very few on defense, they’ve been forcing too many on offense. In past seasons, it’s been the inverse of that and they’ve got the winning record to show for it. On Sunday, we saw quarterback Matt Ryan throw two interceptions, his 11th and 12th of the season. The first interception came in the second quarter and it was the second interception returned for a touchdown against Ryan in three games. Ryan has now thrown nine interceptions in the last four games. Wide receiver Roddy White’s fumble in the second quarter was the second turnover of the game and Tampa recovered at their own 47-yard line. On the flip side, the Falcons couldn’t force a turnover on defense to even the margin. The loss to Tampa Sunday marked the second straight game the Falcons defense has not forced a turnover. It’s the eighth straight game the offense has turned the ball over to the opponent.
4) Run Game Finds a Spark: As Tampa’s lead grew, the ability for the Falcons to run the ball diminished. That’s been the case for much of this season as the Falcons have found themselves in holes early and have had to pass on nearly 70 percent of their possessions this season. An encouraging start for the run game against Tampa gave way to more passing as the Falcons had to continue to dig their way out of a deficit. Steven Jackson started things early, rushing for 22 yards on two carries on the first drive of the game. Jackson ended the game with 41 yards on 11 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers added 22 yards and the entire team received a fourth-quarter spark when backup running back Antone Smith ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run to draw the Falcons to within 20. It was Smith’s third run of his four-year career and just his second of the season. Smith added a run of 38 yards later in the fourth quarter and finished with 88 of the Falcons’ 152 rushing yards.
5) Tough Tony: There was concern earlier this week that Tony Gonzalez wouldn’t be able to play this week, breaking a number of the ironman’s consecutive streaks. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said on Thursday that although Gonzalez didn’t practice that day, he’d never count out the future Hall of Famer for a game. Gonzalez started for the Falcons, marking his 112th straight game starting. His first catch marked his 205th straight game with a catch, a streak he continues to compile. He joins Jerry Rice at 274 straight games as the only players in league history to catch a pass in 200 or more consecutive games. Gonzalez’ third catch of the game gave him 50 on the season, the 16th time he’s accomplished that in his career. He’s second all time on that list behind Rice’s 17 straight 50-catch seasons.