Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons' offense back on track

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 27, 2017 at 6:17 PM
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons offense had been moving forward without two of its main stars.

Running back Devonta Freeman is out with a concussion and has slowed down after a hot start to the season. Julio Jones has been slowed by a lingering ankle injury, but he broke loose with a major game against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Jones had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-20 victory over the Bucs.

It was his third game with 250 yards receiving or more, the most in NFL history. Jones has 563 career catches, the most by one receiver over the first 90 games of his career. Anquan Boldin had 558.

Also, Jones now has 8,649 yards receiving over his first 90 games breaking the old mark of 8,502 set by Lance Alworth.

Jones caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. He said the Falcons had not practiced the play at full speed.

"We've mostly done it in walk-throughs," said quarterback Matt Ryan. "Those guys have thrown a lot of passes to each other too. They work on throwing to each other all the time.

"It was cool to see it in live action for the first time. It was a perfect pass."

Ryan liked Sanu's tight spiral.

"Mohamed Sanu is a stud," Ryan said. "It was a really great throw and good adjustment by Julio at the end. It was very timely. That was a huge play on a third-and-1 situation."

The 51-yard touchdown gave the Falcons a 10-3 lead.

"Mo, he's a great quarterback and has a great deep ball so he doesn't need it," Jones said. "We throw a lot every day in practice, throwing the ball around so I've seen his ball numerous times."

Jones thought the play had a chance of working. He knew it was in the game plan.

"When I came and lined up I was just trying to see what the guy outside of me was going to do," Jones said. "He just kind of stayed there and it was just one-on-one with the safety. Mo didn't care and he just gave me an opportunity to go up there and make a play."

Jones was clearly health for the first time in weeks.

"I'm feeling better. A couple weeks ago I had an ankle injury and it has kind of been lingering, but I'm good," Jones said. "I'm striking and ready to go, and it's a credit to (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) too as well. Just dialing up plays and seeing early on, just taking advantage of what they were giving us on defense."

Jones had a big dive into the end zone on his 25-yard touchdown pass from Ryan.

"When I came out of the route, I caught the ball and I turned back and saw the defensive back on the ground," Jones said. "I'm guessing he slipped down, but like I said earlier we don't practice any bad ball security here. I would have never stuck the ball out had I seen him upright. I saw him on the ground, so I had to get in there."

Jones were perplexed by the amount of single coverage he drew from the Bucs.

"Yes, and a lot of quarters," Jones said. "We were just trying to hit the holes on quarters and go over the top."

Jones, with Ryan or Sanu throwing, believes the offense is headed in the right direction.

"We just have to keep building," Jones said. "You never know whose game it's going to be. That's why I'm not a stat guy. I'm not going to get down and not go out there and play for my brothers. That's being selfish."

--

Mohamed Sanu tossed a 51-yard touchdown strike to Julio Jones.

"I just saw him take off and let it go," Sanu said.

The Falcons have used the formation a few times this season, but Sanu has run up the middle to pick up first downs or score.

Sanu hadn't thrown a pass out of the formation until Sunday. Sanu had the green light if he saw a certain formation.

"I had a little flashback," Sanu said.

He's completed 6 of 6 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Sanu bobbled the ball and almost didn't get into passing position.

"I ran into the running back a little bit, but then I got a good handle on it," Sanu said.

--

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman received two game balls Sunday. One each for the birth of his twins a day earlier.

"This weekend has been amazing," Coleman said after the Falcons defeated the Buccaneers 34-20. "The (birth) of my two children, my twins."

Coleman rushed 19 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.

He had touchdown runs of three and 14 yards.

"We came together and we fought," Coleman said.

--

The Falcons let the Buccaneers hang around too long.

They cruised to a 27-6 lead, but gave up two touchdowns to make it a seven-point game. However, they put their foot down and made a big stop in the fourth quarter.

The result was a 34-20 Falcons win, their third straight.

"The biggest thing for us was finishing," rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley said. "I think we had them like 27-6. On defense we have to learn how to finish out games. Ain't no reason why that game should have got as close as it was."

--

Nickel back Brian Poole injured his lower back and left cornerback Desmond Trufant suffered a concussion after getting hit by strong safety Keanu Neal. Both did not finish the game.

"I owe him something," Neal said. "I feel bad for him."

C.J. Goodwin took over at left cornerback for Trufant. Ricardo Allen moved to nickel back from free safety and rookie Damontae Kazeee took over at free safety.

"Rico came in and played nickel corner," Neal said. "C.J. and Kazee, they all contributed. We had to empty the bench. Sometimes that happens."

The Falcons' other cornerback, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, was inactive for the game. Also, the team released Jalen Collins on Monday after he served his 10-game NFL suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Head coach Dan Quinn was pleased with the play of Allen, who had the key stop on third down.

"Whatever is asked, he's that type of man," Quinn said. "Whatever we need, his leadership always comes through. Today we also lined him up at corner, at free safety, at strong safety."

Allen had six tackles. Kazee and Goodwin finished with five tackles.

"It was also a good opportunity for Kazee and C.J. to get some turns," Quinn said. "When their number is called, we expect them to play well, but back to Rico, he's definitely somebody that we lean on a bunch."

--

The Falcons held the Bucs to 94 yards rushing on 23 carries. Doug Martin left the game early with a concussion. Jacquizz Rodgers and Barber took over.

"They just used a lot of personnel," McKinley said. "They did a good job of keeping us guessing with the different personnel groupings."

NOTES: WR Julio Jones was targeted on 15 of his 33 routes against the Bucs. ... RG Wes Schweitzer was the lowest graded member of the offensive line that didn't allow a sack or a quarterback hit. ... RB Tevin Coleman gained 51 of his 97 yards rushing after contact. ... DT Dontari Poe had four quarterback pressures. ... DT Grady Jarrett had three quarterback pressures. ... CB Desmond Trufant is in the concussion protocol after taking a hit to the neck area from teammate Keanu Neal. ... RB Devonta Freeman remains in the concussion protocol. ... CB Brian Poole suffered a lower back injury and will be evaluated day-to-day.

REPORT CARD vs. BUCCANEERS

--PASSING OFFENSE: B - Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was unstoppable and became the first player in league history to have three 250-yard plus receiving games. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu went in to play quarterback in the second quarter in the Falcons' 12-Gauge package and tossed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jones after faking the ball on a read-zone look. He bobbled the ball, gathered it back in and launched a nice spiral. Matt Ryan and Jones connected on a 25-yard touchdown play in the second quarter to give the Falcons a 17-3 lead. Jones set the mark for most yards receiving in the first 90 games of his career in the second quarter. Jones has 8,649 career yards surpassing the previous mark of 8,502 yards held by Lance Alworth. Ryan completed 26-of-35 passes for 317 yards and one touchdown. The Falcons were 11 of 14 on third downs.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The speedy Tevin Coleman had more room to work against the Bucs. He had 43 yards on his first seven carries, including a 20-yard run. He had 43 yards on 20 carries when he was stymied by Seattle last week. The Falcons were going in to ice the game in the fourth quarter, when Terron Ward was stripped of the ball by Kendell Beckwith. Brent Grimes returned the fumble 37 yards. Coleman added a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:53 to play to help secure the victory. Coleman rushed 19 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Julio Jones picked up 15 rushing yards on a reverse.

--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Falcons cornerbacks Brian Poole (lower back) and Desmond Trufant (concussion) were knocked out of the game in the second quarter. Both were later ruled out. Trufant was hit by Falcons safety Keanu Neal. With Poole and Trufant out, the Falcons went to a big nickel package with three safeties. C.J. Goodwin took over at left cornerback for Trufant. Free safety Ricardo Allen went to the slot for Poole and rookie Damontae Kazee took over at free safety for Allen. The Falcons had released cornerback Jalen Collins after he served his 10-game NFL suspension. Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't test the secondary on any depth throws of 20 yards or more.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B - The Falcons were strong against the run as the Bucs used three running backs. Doug Martin started the game. Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber came on in relief. Barber had two rushing touchdowns. The Bucs were held to 94 yards rushing on 23 carries. Neal led the defense with eight tackles.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Matt Bryant made his field-goal attempts of 49 and 36 yards. Matt Bosher had two punts. On his second, in the third quarter, he had a hang-time of 4.70 seconds, but the Falcons' gunners failed to down the well-placed punt and it ended up being a touchback. Returner Andre Roberts had a season high 129 kickoff-return yards for a 25.8 yards-per-return average, fourth highest of the season. He had 155 total return yards, which was also a season high.

--COACHING: B - The Falcons were creative on offense with the touchdown pass from Sanu to Jones and the coaches had to get creative on defense as the injuries mounted. The Falcons built a 27-6 lead and then let the Bucs creep back into the game with two third-quarter touchdowns. The Falcons continue to struggle with closing out games, which could cost them in their stretch run or any possible return to the playoffs.

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