Just four days removed from a tough loss in Cincinnati, Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons made the most of a quick turnaround and dominated in primetime.
Thursday night, the fast-paced Atlanta offense overwhelmed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in all facets of the game, and the Falcons rolled to a 56-14 victory. No. 39 was thrilled at the performance of its team in the crucial division win.
“We were very fortunate to get this win – it was a collective effort,” SJax said. “The defense created a lot of turnovers and as an offense, we found ways to score points. I think we had great momentum, throughout the game. I think guys played hard in all three phases of the game.”
After falling on the road at Cincinnati last week, the Falcons were glad to be back home in the comfort of a packed Georgia Dome. SJ39 feed off the atmosphere, as he had he had his strongest outing of the season, adding a touchdown while amassing a game-high 54 yards on the ground.
The Buccaneers won the coin toss and elected to defer, giving No. 39 and the Falcon offense the game’s first possession.
Atlanta used SJax to set the tempo early on, giving him two carries for 12 yards. Quarterback Matt Ryan notched three long completions on the drive, all off play action fakes involving Steven.
Once in the redzone, SJax barrelled ahead for an eight-yard gain, allowing Ryan to find Harry Douglas for a three-yard score—the first of many on the night.
“I thought it was great execution,” Smith stated when asked about the opening drive. “Great plan in terms of what we were facing and what we’d thought we would face. There was lots of discussion when you put your opening drive together. I thought we set the tempo well, and it was very efficient taking the ball down the field. I think we were really efficient in most drives in the first half.”
The Falcons defense was then tasked with trying to contain the Buccaneers. Atlanta, which allowed 472 yards in each of its first two games, held strong early, forcing a punt and two turnovers on the two first Tampa drives.
After the first stop, Atlanta got the ball at their own 25-yard line, still up 7-0. On the seventh play of the subsequent drive, Ryan passed short to Levine Toilolo who scampered 13 yards then fumbled the ball. After recovering the ball, Bucs safety Mark Barron ran 8 yards the other direction before Devin Hester poked it out once again and recovered the loose ball.
The Falcons made the most of the opportunity with a touchdown pass to Julio Jones that staked the lead to 14-0.
As the Buccaneers looked to respond, Josh McCown’s pass intended for Vincent Jackson was intercepted by Kamel Ishmael at the Tampa Bay 23-yard line. Ishmael returned the ball for 23 yards for the score, making it 21-0 in favor of Atlanta, still in the first quarter.
Up by three possessions for the first time all season, the Falcons continued to work, and on the opening play of the second frame, Hester took a 20-yard carry to paydirt, giving his squad a commanding 28-point lead. Shortly after, Hester added another score, displaying his elite return skills with a 62-yard punt return touchdown to send the Falcons ahead 35-0 at halftime.
“I’m very pleased the way that we came off a short week,” Smith said about the win and the fast start. “We wanted to be as fresh as we could possibly be, and I though the guys responded extremely well in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. We played smart, solid football for the most part.”
But Atlanta was far from finished, and in a display of the Falcon’s offense, Ryan and Jackson combined to engineer a quick five play, 82 yard drive. It was capped with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Jones with more than eight minutes left in the third quarter.
The next Tampa drive lasted just one play, as a fumble—one of five turnovers for the Bucs on the night—gave Atlanta the ball just two yards away from the end zone.
Like the Tampa drive before it, Atlanta’s next drive lasted just one play. The Falcons gave to the powerful No. 39, who burst his way into the end zone for a touchdown, to make it 49-0 in favor of the home team, taking the last wisp of air out of the Bucs’ sails.
The Falcons added one more touchdown in the third, and the called off the dogs before cruising to a 56-14 win. In the press conference following, Smith was a bit speechless with the performance of his team, both offensively and defensively.
“I’ve never experienced that type of lead in the National Football League. We did some really good things. Again, I want to say it, it’s going to have barring on what happens when we get on that plane and go play in Minnesota. We’ll take it.”
After taking a few extra days to rest, SJ39 and the Falcons will turn their attention to another opponent, the Minnesota Vikings.
SJax has compiled 366 yards and three touchdowns in four career meetings with Minnesota.
The game will take place at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis next Sunday at 4:25 EDT and will be broadcast on Fox.