Buccaneers vs. Falcons: 5 Things We Learned in Atlanta's 45-24 Win

Alex WelchCorrespondent IIJanuary 2, 2012

Buccaneers vs. Falcons: 5 Things We Learned in Atlanta's 45-24 Win

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    If the Falcons had left in their starters for all four quarters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the score very well may have been 80-7 at the end. That's how ridiculous the first half was for Atlanta.

    They wasted no time coming out of the gates, going straight to work on the ground game. Jacquizz Rodgers capped off the opening drive with his first rushing touchdown in the NFL, opening the floodgates to an abundance of scoring.

    The second half, however, was far less entertaining.

    The Falcons began to sit some of their starters, notably Matt Ryan, and put cruise control on for the remainder of the contest. Dunta Robinson managed to provided some fireworks towards the end, though, as he was involved in a skirmish with a few Tampa players.

    Overall, it was exactly the kind of game Atlanta wanted. They came out and blew the doors off Tampa. Everything went smoothly for Ryan and his offense, who now enter the playoffs with the fifth seed in the NFC.

    So from the last game of this year's regular season, what did we learn? 

The Falcons Have What It Takes to Win Their First Playoff Game Under Smith/Ryan

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    With Detroit losing to Green Bay and Atlanta taking care of business at home, the Falcons move into the fifth spot in the NFC playoffs. Instead of traveling back to New Orleans, Atlanta will get the winner of tonight's Cowboys-Giants matchup.

    You have to like the Falcons' odds facing either team. Dallas and New York have had their fair share of issues in 2011, and have been two of the most inconsistent, baffling franchises this season. 

    Atlanta has faced problems along the way, but the have all the tools to defeat the winner of the NFC East. Eli Manning and Tony Romo are talented quarterbacks, but that's about all I can say for either team. 

    Dallas is a middle-of-the-road running team, and the Giants rank dead last in running yards per game. The Falcons have been strong against the run this season, so that shouldn't be an issue. 

    The Cowboys rank 14th in total defense, and New York sits way down the list at 28th. Neither has much of a secondary, and with the way Matt Ryan has been throwing the ball lately, I feel confident the Falcons can take advantage.

    This could very well be the year we see this regime win a postseason game, finally.

The First Half Was Arguably the Best Ever Played by Atlanta

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    It honestly felt surreal watching the Falcons destroy Tampa in the first half. They went into halftime leading 42-7 and it actually could have been worse, as Chris Redman took over at the end of the second quarter.

    Play after play, anything and everything that happened went in Atlanta's favor.

    During one Bucs' possession, Kellen Winslow took out Josh Freeman's intended receiver, leaving Curtis Lofton with an easy interception and a path to six points. I almost felt sorry for Tampa—almost.

    Michael Turner ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in the first half alone—I'm not exaggerating this time. He had his best game of the season in one half against Tampa.

    Does that say more about Turner's abilities, or more about Tampa's woes? However you look at it, he needs to use this performance to get him going again in the playoffs.

    Matt Ryan only threw nine passes, but he finished with 106 yards and two scores. If the Falcons offense can continue to find this kind of rhythm, they will be a dangerous team going forward.

It Has Been a Record-Breaking Season

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    Several records were broken in Week 17 for Atlanta. They scored the most points in one half in team history (42), Michael Turner broke the record for most rushing touchdowns in a Falcons uniform (49), Roddy White became Falcons' all-time leader in receiving yards and the first Falcon to catch 100 passes in multiple seasons, and Matt Ryan now holds the franchise record for most passing yards in a season.

    Those were some of the milestones accomplished in Week 17 for Atlanta. Despite the subpar record against elite teams and a worse W-L record than last season, it has still been a memorable year for this franchise. 

    They can make it even more of an impact by winning a playoff game next week, which would be their first since 2004.

Julio Jones Was Worth Every Penny

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    If you have yet to board the Julio Jones bandwagon, I strongly suggest you reconsider. He scored two more touchdowns in this week's matchup, and is clearly going to be a dynamic force in Atlanta for years to come.

    Not only does he have the speed to blow by defenders, he has the toughness you look for in every player.

    On one pass from Matt Ryan, Jones went up for the ball, came down on the ground, got back up and fought several defenders off on his way to the end zone. He refused to go down; he was not going to be denied on that play.

    It's hard to believe this guy is only a rookie.

    Jones finishes the regular season with 54 catches for 959 yards and eight touchdowns, and he even missed a few games due to hamstring issues. How can you not be excited to see his future with Atlanta?

Mike Smith Expects a Lot out of This Team

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    There was a point in the second half when the Bucs had scored 24 unanswered points. Shortly after Josh Freeman completed his second touchdown pass, Mike Smith could be seen irate on the sidelines. Now, he may have been irritated about the penalty on Kroy Biermann—which was a terrible call, he was pushed into Freeman—but I think it was in large part due to his team's floundering play.

    Of course, there was no reason to fret about losing the game at all, but Smith didn't take too kindly to the fact that his defense was just laying down. They sat some of the starters, but the D still had a good majority of the first-string guys in during the second half.

    It's hard to tell if the Bucs made good adjustments or if the Falcons lost interest, which would be understandable. Whatever the case, Smith expects his team to perform well, regardless of their lead. Hopefully he expresses some of that displeasure before next week's playoff game.