REPORT CARD: Falcons can't 'gift' opponents 17 points

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Costly penalties hurt the Falcons as they fell to the Buccaneers in their home opener, 31-24. The AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter reports from the Georgia Dome.

September 11, 2016 ATLANTA: Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones takes the field to play the Buccaneers in an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /

The Falcons found out that you can’t “gift” the opposition 17 points and expect to win in the NFL.

The Falcons’ mindless penalties kept three scoring drives alive that lead to 17 points in their 31-24 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Tampa Bay second-year quarterback Jameis Winston is now 3-0 against the Falcons.

He played a splendid game while throwing four touchdown passes, but the Falcons are kicking themselves for their rash of penalties, shoddy tackling and blown opportunities in the red zone.

Here are the grades:

Game ball: Running back Tevin Coleman had 13 touches for 117 yards. He made a spectacular catch out of the backfield on his 47-yard gain.

Quarterbacks, C-plus. Matt Ryan completed 27 of 39 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 112.6, but wasn’t very sharp. He threw  several passes behind receivers and didn’t test the Bucs’ secondary deep.

Running backs, D.  The Falcons rushing attack was shut down by Tampa Bay. Running back Devonta Freeman rushed 11 times for 20 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed eight times for 22. Ryan had the highest average per carry at 3.3 yards on three scrambles for 10 yards. Freeman was not sure how the Buccaneers totally stymied the rushing attack. “They had good defense,” Freeman said. “There were holes. We had a game plan and they had a game plan, too.” Coleman caught five passes for 95 yards, including an electric 47-yard gain, which was wasted on another failed red zone trip. Freeman, who appears to be dancing too much in the hole, caught four passes for 20 yards.

Wide receivers/tight ends, C.  All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones was held in check for first half with one catch for 14 yards. He finished with four catches for 66 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown catch. Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith made his debut as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator and Jones was his number target to take away from the Falcons. “He kept a safety over the top on me,” Jones said. “Then every now and then he played a trap with the corner jumping inside of me. They would play a two-man and then outside with the quarters. They just kept trying to mix it up. At all times, they had two guys on me for most of the game.” Mohamed Sanu had a strong debut, but it was marred by ankle injury and a missed opportunity on a late errant pass. Tight end Jacob Tamme led all receivers with six catches for 51 yards. Rookie Austin Hooper had one catch for 14 yards.

Offensive line, F. The run game was nonexistent and Ryan was sacked three times and hit four times. Freeman and Coleman combined to rush for 42 yards on 19 carries. Tackle Jake Matthews had an untimely offsides penalty and had another one declined.  There were no botched snaps from new center Alex Mack, but his impact in the run game was not felt.

Defensive line, D.  The Falcons held the Bucs to 90 yards rushing on 28 carries (3.2 yards per carry), but the nonexistent pass rush left the secondary in coverage too long. The Falcons had no sacks and five quarterback hits on 33 pass attempts. Defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley didn’t make the stat sheet, while Dwight Freeney managed a quarterback hit. Adrian Clayborn had two quarterback hits.

Linebackers, C: Rookie De’Vondre Campbell played the most snaps (56 of 64 snaps, 88 percent). Deion Jones played 54 snaps (84 percent) and Beasley played 39 (61 percent). Philip Wheeler played 23 snaps (36 percent), Sean Weatherspoon played 10 snaps (16 percent) and Paul Worrilow played eight snaps (12 percent). LaRoy Reynolds didn’t play from scrimmage.  On their first possession of the third quarter, Winston tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who got behind Weatherspoon. The Falcons had to blitz to create some pressure as Jones and Worrilow also had quarterback hits.

Defensive backs, D. It’s usually not a good thing when both of the safeties are tied for the team lead in tackles. Ricardo Allen and Kemal Ishmael had seven tackles each to pace the team. Nickel back Brian Poole, an undrafted rookie from Florida, held up in coverage. He played 41 of 64 snaps (64 percent) and finished with three tackles. Cornerback Desmond Trufant had an interception, while Robert Alford had a costly unnecessary roughness penalty.

Special teams, C.  Matt Bryant made all three of his short field goal attempts as the offense continued to sputter in the red zone. Eric Weems handled the kickoff and the punt returns. He had three kickoff returns for 85 yards and two punt returns for 22 yards. Matt Bosher averaged 38.6 yards on five punts. He shanked a 34-yarder on his first punt of the game.

Coaching, D-minus. The procedural penalties, the shoddy tackling and failed red zone ventures all fall on the coaching staff. This wasn’t one of coach Dan Quinn’s staffs better games. They have to clean up the penalties, work on the tackling – which is kind of hard with limited practice contact – and find some answers in the red zone.  The pass rush has to come from the players, so you can’t place that failure in the coaches’ room. While I understand the rationale behind not running no-huddle, there must be a way to incorporate something that works into the offense.

NEXT UP: The Falcons (0-1) travel to face the Oakland Raiders (1-0) at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34 when they went for a two-point conversion with 47 seconds left.

GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24 

5 things we learned from the Falcons' loss to the Bucs

No sacks for new-look Falcons pass rush

Julio Jones not worried about his ankle injury

Falcons penalties extend three Bucs' scoring drives

Who was inactive for the game?

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.