Falcons’ X-factor vs. Bucs: Can Matt Ryan take care of the football?

FLOWERY BRANCH -- In the previous meeting, the Bucs intercepted three passes, had eight tipped passes and returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns.

Quarterback Matt Ryan’s ability to keep the ball out of harm’s way will be the X-factor when the Falcons (5-6) face the defending Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers (8-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Safety Mike Edwards, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns in that previous meeting, will not play because he was suspended for three games Thursday for misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status.

“They present a lot of challenges with both scheme and personnel,” Ryan said. “They do a great job of playing aggressive. (Defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles does a great job of putting their guys in position to be successful against the run.”

The Bucs are No. 1 in the NFL against the run (81 yards per game) and were successful in making the Falcons one-dimensional after taking a 35-25 lead. Ryan had to throw quickly because the line couldn’t block the defensive front.

That combination led to the tipped balls, and Edwards was the main beneficiary.

“Then, when you do have good looks, you’ve got to handle the talent that they have up front,” Ryan said.

The Falcons’ pass game has been off over the past three games. Ryan has thrown only one touchdown pass over the past 12 quarters. The offense clearly misses wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who’s on the non-football injury list to work on his mental health.

“I think we just haven’t been in a rhythm that much in the pass game,” Ryan said. “I think a lot of it comes down to early, just getting some momentum. I thought last week while the numbers weren’t great, we did a pretty good job converting third downs early, which is huge.”

Ryan believes the Falcons can get the pass game on track.

“I think it’s just about rhythm, trying to put guys in position to make plays and continuing to make sure my footwork is in a really good spot to deliver the ball effectively,” Ryan said. “But I really do think it just comes down to a play here or there to get us into a rhythm.”

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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo

Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Next four games

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26

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