The Falcons, who were favored for the first time in five games, were overpowered by a stout Buccaneers defensive front.
The Bucs locked up the Falcons’ offense and then got after quarterback Matt Ryan, who was down two weapons with his main outlet, Julio Jones, hampered by a right shoulder injury for most of the game.
Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich found the soft spots in the Falcons’ zone defense and kept hammering away with wide receiver Chris Godwin as the Bucs went on to pummel the Falcons 35-22 in a deceiving score that was aided by a garbage/fantasy-time touchdown.
» STEVE HUMMER: Falcons get back in touch with losing
Here are the five things we learned from the Falcons’ loss to the Bucs Sunday:
1. Who stole the pass rush? The Falcons couldn’t get their pass rush going.
The Falcons did not sack quarterback Jameis Winston and had just one quarterback hit. There were several almost-sacks, but Winston broke free and passed the ball or scrambled.
On a key third-and-9 on the first possession of the third quarter, Winston broke free for a 24-yard run. He escaped through the left side of the defense where the Falcons were rushing Takk McKinley at left end and Grady Jarrett at left tackle. Adrian Clayborn was at right tackle and Vic Beasley was at right end and the Falcons continued to shuffle their rushers around the line.
“When the game shifted in the second half, you don’t get the same chance to pin your ears back (and rush),” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Although we didn’t get the hits sometimes when you can move the quarterback off the spot, sometimes that’s going to be the case with him. Not being able to finish off some sacks, that was a big factor.”
Over the two-game winning streak, the Falcons had 11 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. They had just seven sacks over the first eight games of the season.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians noted that the Falcons simplified their defense, played more zone and just rushed hard in pass rushing situations.
“I don’t think anything changed,” Jarrett said. “Just like you guys study your craft, opposing teams study us, too. We just have to throw whatever we need to try to get some pressure. Nobody is not going to give it to you.”
2. Ryan vs. Bowles: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had some of his worst games against defenses that have been coordinator by Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles.
Before serving as the head coach of the New York Jets (2015-18), he was the defensive coordinator in Arizona (2013-14)
In a 27-13 loss to the Cardinals, Ryan had one his worst days as a pro as he completed 34 of 61 passes for 301 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 47.2.
Against the Bucs, Ryan had his lowest passer rating of the season at 59.2. He had 60.6 in the loss to the Rams.
Ryan completed 23 of 46 passes for 271 yards, no touchdowns and one interception before leaving early in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.
“One of the strengths of their team was their run defense,” Quinn said. “That part, you’ve got to win some hard yards. We didn’t get much going in that space.”
Without the threat of the run, Bowles’ unit ignored the Falcons’ play-action fakes. That was evident on Bucs linebacker Devin White’s first sack. He ran right past the fake and went straight to Ryan for the sack.
Ryan was under duress for most of the game.
“They did an excellent job today getting after us,” Ryan said. “We weren't able to get into any rhythm.”
The offense never found a flow.
After connecting on a 53-yard pass to Jaeden Graham on the second play of the game, the offense stalled at the 7-yard line and settled for a field goal.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Winston on their opening possession, but the offense couldn’t move the ball and punted.
“We had some opportunities … good start for us creating an explosive play, second play of the game,” Ryan said. “Disappointing to not come away with a touchdown there. Short field opportunity after that, disappointing to not come away with points there. We had our chances early in that game to make it a different type of game.”
Thing just went downhill from there offensively.”
3. Blocking was shoddy: Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary had a tough time with linebacker Devin White on one sack.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea bested left guard James Carpenter on another sack. Left tackle Jake Matthews got beat by Jason Pierre-Paul on the play that led to Ndamukong Suh’s touchdown.
“(The blocking) was not to the level or standard that’s acceptable for us for sure,” Quinn said.
In addition to the poor pass protection, the Falcons running backs Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison combined for 17 carries and 34 rushing yards for a paltry 2 yards per carry.
“It’s frustrating trying to adjust,” McGary said. “We got behind so we kind of started getting back on our heels, falling behind; and when that happens you’re constantly trying to adjust, and it’s just crappy man; it’s frustrating.”
The line felt it took a step backward.
“We just didn’t play good enough today straight up,” McGary said. “They were the better team today, but this is absolutely not what we’re capable of. We’ve shown that we are a much better team than this, and we just didn’t show up with our fastball today for whatever reason.”
4. Seam busters by Godwin. The Falcons didn’t have an answer for wide receiver Chris Godwin up the seam of their cover two zone. He finished with seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 71-yard reception for a touchdown where linebacker Deion Jones was in coverage and Damontae Kazee took a bad angle to the play.
“Anytime that you give up a big explosive, you want to know the reason why,” Quinn said. “A couple of the seam plays certainly looked to me to be like daggers. The big explosive plays to Godwin down the seam were certainly a big factor in the game.”
Kazee was yelling at rookie cornerback Kendall Sheffield. He apparently needed to take deeper drops.
“They did a good job of finding the holes in the zone,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “When we play them next time, we just have to make it harder for them.”
The Falcons’ defense had eliminated the big play in wins over the Saints and Panthers.
“I don’t think it was communication,” Trufant said. “It just came down to them making the plays. They made more plays. That’s ball. They get paid, too. We were communicating. We had a good week of practice. We just dug ourselves in a hole and couldn’t recover.”
5. Bring on the Saints: The Falcons won’t have any time to wallow in self pity.
The Falcons play the Saints (9-2) at 8:20 p.m. Thursday in the late Thanksgiving Day game. The Saints defeated the Panthers 34-31 on Sunday.
After the bye week, the Falcons defeated the Saints 26-9 on Nov. 10.
“It’s a hard loss, but I mean it’s the NFL,” Trufant said. “We have the Saints coming in in a couple of days. We can’t hang our head on this. We just have to stand up. We know it’s going to be a challenge on Thursday. I’m just looking forward to that.”
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