Falcons romp to 56-14 win over hapless Buccaneers
ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns as Atlanta trounced the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14 on Thursday for one of the biggest wins in Falcons history.
Julio Jones hauled in nine passes for 161 yards and a couple of scores, and Devin Hester set an NFL record with his 20th return for a touchdown.
The Falcons (2-1) led 35-0 before the Buccaneers (0-3) picked up a first down. Ryan and the other offensive starters left the game after Steven Jackson’s 3-yard touchdown run made it 49-0 before the midway point of the third quarter.
Atlanta built a stunning 56-0 lead. Tampa Bay scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to avoid the worst loss in club history.
Hester and Jones provided the night’s signature moments.
With the Falcons already up 28-0, Hester took a punt at his own 44, found a seam up the middle of the field and zipped around the last man with a chance to tackle him, punter Michael Koenen. The 56-yard play was Hester’s 20th career return for a touchdown, breaking the mark he shared with former Falcons star Deion Sanders.
Sanders, now a television analyst, watched Hester’s return from the sideline at the Georgia Dome. Hester high-stepped the last 10 yards are so, his left hand bobbing behind his ear — a tribute to Sanders’ signature move.
Prime Time smiled broadly and waved to the crowd when he was shown on the video board, the Hall of Famer’s record falling in the stadium he once proclaimed “my house.”
Jones could’ve made the same claim after the stunning catch he made for a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Turning toward the sideline, he looked first over his left shoulder for the pass, turned his body when realized it was coming over his right shoulder, juggled the ball a bit as he tumbled into the end zone, cradling it under his arm just before slammed the turf, getting both feet down.
The Bucs, losing their first three games for the third time in six years, couldn’t do anything right. Josh McCown was 5 of 12 for 58 yards and his fourth interception of the season was returned 23 yards for a touchdown by backup safety Kemal Ishmael.
Somewhat mercifully, McCown left the game with a thumb injury after appearing to bang his right hand off an Atlanta player’s helmet on his final throw of the night. Mike Glennon went the rest of the way at quarterback.
If not for Danny Lansanah’s 27-yard interception return for a touchdown, Tampa Bay would’ve eclipsed its worst loss ever, a 48-3 blowout by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963