By Darrell Baker
ATLANTA – Julio Jones put on a show that produced an NFL season high of 253 yards receiving Sunday in the Falcons win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-20. Jones would set two records with his monster performance. With 563 catches, Jones surpassed former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin’s old record for most receptions by a player through their first 90 games in the NFL. Secondly, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Lance Alworth’s record of 8,502 yards receiving yards after 90 games was also broken, as Jones hit 8,649 yards before the game was over.
The first quarter was fairly uneventful with Tampa Bay kicking a 36-yard field goal on their first possession and the Falcons following up on ensuing drive with a 49-yard field goal by kicker Matt Bryant. The first quarter would end at 3-3 with both teams evenly splitting the time of possession at seven minutes and thirty seconds each.
The second quarter is where Jones would begin to put on a show that would be what Atlanta has been waiting for beginning with Mohamed Sanu behind center and quarterback Matt Ryan lining up as a wide receiver. After a slight bobble with the snap, Sanu would thread a 51-yard strike down field to Jones for a touchdown and the Falcons would take a 10-3 lead with their first possession into the second quarter. When head coach Dan Quinn was asked about his trust in Sanu on that pass play he said, “This wasn’t a play we just put up this week, it’s been something that … we had up last season as well. I wasn’t confident in it when I saw him bobble the snap, but I knew when he ripped it down the field, I knew we’d have a chance at it.”
The Falcons defense wasn’t interested in bending to anything that Tampa Bay was trying to do on offense especially on third down. This is where the Falcons were being the most hardened, defending their side of the field and also the red zone. Their efforts had them winning and taking pressure off of the offense.
On the Falcons second possession of the second quarter, Ryan had the offense chipping away at the Buccaneers’ defensive secondary with a couple of big passes to Jones, a 20-yard gain to their own 48 and another 15-yard gain to Tampa Bay’s 37-yard line on the next play. Three plays later, Ryan would hit Jones in stride for a 25-yard touchdown catch in which Jones would have to stretch and dive as he sailed over the pylon on the left side of the endzone putting the Falcons up 17-3 after Bryant’s field goal attempt.
The Buccaneers would take the following possession down to just under the two-minute mark before halftime. After stalling out with three successive incomplete passes in the red zone, Tampa Bay would come away with three points off a field goal by kicker Patrick Murray making it 17-6 with just 1:40 left on the clock before halftime.
With that kind of time and the way Jones was playing, it was just enough for Ryan to get the offense rolling again and downfield for more points as the half ended. Ryan hit Jones for a 22-yard gain to put the Falcons just past Tampa Bay’s 48 yard line. Ryan continued spreading the ball around, hitting tight end Austin Hooper, Sanu and then Jones again before spiking the ball on the 18-yard line giving Bryant another easy 36-yard field goal attempt and the Falcons would go into halftime with a 20-6 lead over the Buccaneers.
Jones’ performance at the end of the half was 133 yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons would take first possession after halftime and head downfield starting with another downfield pass by Ryan, deep to the left side of the field to Jones for a 23-yard gain and then to Sanu a few plays later for 25 yards. Hooper would also catch a 20-yard pass from Ryan, as Tevin Coleman would finish out the drive rushing three yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Coleman would have a solid performance on the day as well rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts as he continues to shoulder the rushing load while running back Devonta Freeman remains in concussion protocol.
Tampa Bay wasn’t going to give up easily. During the third quarter Ryan Fitzpatrick would take the Bucs offense downfield after the Falcons scored to answer with their own touchdown. Peyton Barber would score on a 2-yard run into the end zone making the score 27-13 after the extra point kick. Barber would score another rushing touchdown after the Falcons turned over on downs on a 1-yard rush and the score would be 27-20 going into the fourth quarter.
The Falcons would turnover the ball on what seemed to be a costly fumble on its first possession in the 4th quarter. Terron Ward would fumble just after breaking free past the Buccaneers defensive line for what looked like a sure touchdown until Kendell Beckwith managed to use his arm to jar the ball loose causing the fumble. Tampa Bays’ cornerback Brent Grimes, would recover and make it a 37-yard fumble recovery. The Falcons defense however, would stand strong, giving up no points and Tampa Bay was forced to punt with just seven minutes left in the 4th quarter.
This time, the Falcons offense would patiently drive down field behind big gains from Jones, and Sanu with Coleman scoring on a 14-yard run putting the Falcons up for good 34-20. The Falcons got great play out of their best players on the field today with Jones’ play being one for the records books and something to look forward to as the playoff picture begins to take shape.
With this win, the Falcons are 7-4 overall and 6-1 against NFC teams. The Falcons play a critical game against the Minnesota Vikings (9-2) next Sunday in Atlanta at 1 p.m.