Forty years and two days ago, the Atlanta Falcons set a record by scoring 62 points in a game against the New Orleans Saints. For a while, it looked like that mark might be shattered, as the Falcons were blowing out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
But no one will complain that the Falcons had to settle for a 56-14 win to improve to 2-1 on the young season.
It was a record-setting game, however, as Devin Hester returned a 62-yard punt return in the second quarter for a touchdown. It was Hester’s 20th career return for six points, breaking the record held by former Falcon Deion Sanders, who was at the game as an analyst for the NFL Network.
Also, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan set a franchise record by completing 87.5% of his passes. Ryan was 21-for-24 with 286 yards and three touchdown passes.
The Falcons scored every way possible, including on defense, as Kemal Ishmael picked off a Josh McCown pass in the first quarter and ran for a 23-yard touchdown.
“We did a pretty good job of putting up some points,” Ryan said. “Special teams added to it, and the defense added to it. I think the defense had a turnover, an interception for a touchdown, but also a fumble recovery that put us on the one-yard line. Field position like that is pretty good. All three phases contributed to the scoring. Just a great effort across the board.”
The Falcons seemed determined to wipe away the dismal performance from four days ago in Cincinnati when the Bengals won easily 24-10. They scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and added another one on the first play of the second period when Hester ran a reverse for a 20-yard touchdown.
The players admitted it was crucial to get an early lead to avoid any repeat of last Sunday.
“It was real important because we know we didn’t perform how we wanted to as a defense, and just as a whole team,” said cornerback Desmond Trufant. “We didn’t perform. We came back this week it was a team effort. The offense was rolling. Special team was rolling. The defense was getting turnovers. It was great. “
Ryan added, “We talked about it all week. We wanted to start fast and rebound from last week. I thought we did a great job of that collectively.”
It was especially important for Ryan to bounce back. He had a tremendous performance in week one against the Saints, but then last Sunday in Cincinnati he never got on track.
“In this league there are going to be weeks where there is tough sledding, especially on the road,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you don’t play as well as you’d like. But good teams respond and good teams come back and play better the following week. We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we want to go, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Atlanta’s offense included a huge game from wide receiver Julio Jones, who picked up the slack with Roddy White inactive due to a troublesome hamstring. Jones had nine catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Eric Weems stepped up after the injury to Harry Douglas and had four catches for 69 yards.
Plus, the running game was effective. Steven Jackson had 54 rushing yards on 14 carries. Antone Smith once again contributed when he got the ball. Smith had 50 yards on four carries, including a 38-year run for a touchdown. Overall, Atlanta’s backs had 144 rushing yards, the most since the Falcons had 151 rushing yards last December 1 against Buffalo.
“When we find our rhythm, we’re hard to stop, especially offensively,” said center Joe Hawley. “We found the rhythm early in the game, first drive, drove it right down and that really set the tempo for the whole game. That’s the way we need to be. We need to set the tempo for the whole team offensively and keep the ball moving.
“We ran the ball well. We passed the ball well. We were efficient in all areas. You can’t ask for anything better. “
The Falcons defense shut down a Tampa Bay offense that has explosive weapons. The Bucs had only 217 total offensive yards in the game. Quarterback Josh McCown (5-12, 58 yards) had to leave the game with a thumb injury. He was replaced by Mike Glennon (17-24, 121 yards), last year’s main starter for the Bucs. The Falcons finally did do something to disrupt the quarterback, as they racked up three sacks in the game after not having one the first two weeks of the season.
Tampa Bay Running back Bobby Rainey, who had a great game last season against the Falcons, was limited to only 41 yards on 11 carries. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson caught only two passes for 15 yards, while rookie Mike Evans from Texas A&M had four catches for 52 yards.
“We didn’t have a big game plan for this week. It was just about running to the ball and finishing,” said safety William Moore. “We just needed to come out and execute.”
The Atlanta players could not stop talking about Hester in the locker room after the game. They seemed genuinely happy Hester had his second great game in the first three weeks of the season.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Ryan. “Devin has been awesome since he has gotten here. He is as good a teammate as you can ask for. He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around, and he’s extremely humble. I couldn’t be more happy for him to break the record tonight. It was special that Deion was here tonight as well.”
“It was real exciting, said Trufant. “He’s an electric player. All he needs is a little crease and he can impact the game. It was great. I’m honored to be on the field with a guy like him. “
The Falcons will now have a few extra days off to heal. They play next on September 28, when they travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings.
Falcons demolish Bucs 56-14
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