Coming off a bye week, the Falcons kept the Buccaneers winless and at the bottom of the NFC South division with a strong win that Atlanta controlled from start to finish.
After a pair of heartbreaking losses at home prior to their bye week, the Falcons responded well with the time off to play one of their most complete games. Certain aspects of the team seemed to improve, while others still need work if the Falcons are hoping to go on the road the next two weeks and get more wins.
But other players were able to step up and fill in those roles.
This is a confidence-boosting win for Atlanta, even against a Tampa Bay team in disarray. Because of the multitude of issues the Bucs are currently facing, it is a good sign that the Falcons seemed well in control of this game from start to finish.
The Falcons can build off this win. Hopefully it breeds more success as they face a slate of four games that calls for them to travel on the road three times.
Atlanta led the entire game. While the Bucs were able to shrink their lead to one score several times, the Falcons always managed to respond with a scoring drive of their own to extend the lead. Holding leads has been a problem for the Falcons throughout their first five games, and thus there is cause to believe that perhaps the Falcons are turning things around.
With the injuries to Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Falcons' passing attack needed Harry Douglas, the only experienced wide receiver on the roster, to step up.
And he certainly did.
Douglas put up career-high 149 receiving yards on seven catches, the second-most of his career. He caught every pass thrown to him. The Falcons made use of his speed after the catch on a number of plays, including a few big plays on a 54-yard catch-and-run and a 37-yard touchdown strike.
A common complaint about Douglas has been his inability to step up when necessary. He's typically played well when receivers like White and Jones have been absent over the years, and that once again proved to be the case today.
The Falcons hope that they will get White back soon, but if not, Douglas proved he was an effective lead option for Matt Ryan.
While Harry Douglas had an excellent performance, Tony Gonzalez was largely an afterthought with only a pair of receptions for 30 yards.
But even without their future Hall of Famer to carry the offense, the Falcons got solid production from the rest of their receiver corps. While Darius Johnson and Drew Davis didn't have great games, each did make a noteworthy catch on the day to help the offense.
Johnson made a nice 12-yard grab at the end of the third quarter to move the chains on 2nd-and-11. He was only elevated from the practice squad on Saturday.
On the very next play, Davis made an excellent one-handed grab for a 24-yard gain. That put the ball in Buccaneer territory, and a handful of plays later the Falcons were in the end zone.
The Falcons have been overly reliant on playmakers like Gonzalez and Jones in recent games. While the main focus of their offense against Tampa Bay was Douglas, it will be a positive if the Falcons continue to find ways to spread the ball to other options when White returns healthy to the lineup.
The Falcons' running game did not do much.
Running backs rushed for just 30 yards on 15 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers himself did not have a great game on the ground, rushing for only 16 yards on eight carries. But Rodgers did make major contributions in the passing game. He led Falcon receivers with eight grabs for 46 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Rodgers was very effective on the multiple screens the Falcons ran to try and dial back the Buccaneer blitz. One of them proved to be the team's final touchdown of the game. He was able to juke a defender and scurry into the end zone on an eight-yard score. He beat Lavonte David on an earlier touchdown catch on a 19-yard wheel route.
While the Falcons will need to get more from their running game, the fact that Rodgers has proven time and time again that he can be a reliable outlet in the passing game does make up for it somewhat.
The team will be hoping that Steven Jackson will return from injury in the very near future, but they must find a way to keep Rodgers involved in the passing game.
The pass protection has been a glaring issue for the Falcons through the first five games of the 2013 season. But it was not an issue against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Atlanta's offensive line has shown improvement throughout the year, with steady progress each week.
It culminated in the best performance of the 2013 season this week.
The Falcons gave up no sacks, and Matt Ryan didn't see much pressure on the day. That was critical to the success of receivers like Douglas and the others, giving them extra time to get open and create separation. Even a shutdown corner such as Darrelle Revis can't be expected to cover forever.
The Falcons will need to build off this with tough outings against the defensive fronts of Arizona, Carolina and Seattle in their next three games. It will be critical that this is not just a one-game aberration for the Falcons' pass protection.
As noted before, the Falcons' running game was largely ineffective against Tampa Bay. Running back Steven Jackson has been out of the lineup since the team's Week 2 win over the St. Louis Rams, and his return to the lineup should offer improvement in that area.
While Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have done an admirable job in Jackson's absence, they simply aren't getting the job done.
But much of the struggles aren't on their shoulders; the Falcons' offensive line also needs to step up their game.
The Falcons organization was insistent that Jackson's addition this offseason would be a difference-maker in a lackluster running game. If Jackson proves to be every bit the player that the organization insists, there couldn't be a better time for it to happen.
Due to the injury-related hits the Falcons have taken at wide receiver in the passing game, they need their rushing attack to kick it into high gear.
The Falcons have had problems getting pressure on the quarterback with only their front four, and thus they have been forced to dial up blitzes more and more to generate pressure.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan dialed up plenty of blitzes against the Bucs, and it was effective at generating pressure against rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
While the aggressiveness did bite the Falcons a couple of times, it was effective at keeping Glennon under some duress and giving him less time to locate open receivers.
Atlanta finished the game with a trio of sacks and five quarterback hits.
Another positive sign was that the Falcons did not play prevent defense late in the fourth quarter with the Bucs trying to cut their two-score lead. Having the extended lead probably helped Nolan make the decision to avoid the soft defense. But it is a sign of progress after the Falcons got very soft at the end against the New York Jets and ultimately blew a one-point lead in the final two minutes.
Until the Falcons' defensive line proves it can get consistent pressure on the quarterback, the Falcons are going to have to maintain an aggressive approach defensively.
The Falcons' inability to get consistent pressure is a major reason why their third-down defense has been atrocious this season. They are at the bottom of the league in allowing opponents to convert on third downs.
They were much more formidable against Tampa Bay, only allowing five conversions on 17 attempts.
The Falcons were able to get off the field thanks to improved pressure from blitzing and individual players stepping up and making plays.
The Falcons were also helped by a number of Buccaneer penalties.
One less positive sign is that the Bucs were able to convert on all three of their fourth-down attempts. They should have had another one, but another penalty wiped out a 13-yard touchdown pass by Mike Glennnon to Tiquan Underwood on a 4th-and-goal.
While that shows the Falcons still have a ways to go before they can truly call their third-down defense reliable, the win over the Bucs represents a step in the right direction.
A big reason for the Falcons win was the defense's ability to generate a big play.
That play was a scoop and score by safety Thomas DeCoud to give the Falcons their initial lead on the Bucs' first offensive series of the game.
It was a convergence of all the positives seen on defense. The Falcons blitzed on a third down. Fellow safety William Moore got the sack and strip on Mike Glennon. DeCoud was there to pick up the fumble and run 30 yards for the touchdown.
That gave the Falcons defense a confidence boost early, a unit that was certainly in need of one.
One of the key differences between this year's defense and last year's is the lack of confidence and swagger. And a lot of that has to do with this year's group's inability to generate as many big plays and turnovers. Through six games, the 2013 Falcons defense has five takeaways. At this same point in 2012, they were at 17, nearly three times as many.
If the Falcons defense is going to help out the injury-depleted offense in the coming weeks, it needs to create more turnovers.
The Falcons made a necessary change during the bye week, pulling nickel cornerback Robert McClain off the field. McClain had handled the slot duties through the first five games of the season, but he'd been beaten often. He seemingly gave up a game-changing play each week.
Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant slid into the role this week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finding himself often matched up with their top wideout: Vincent Jackson.
While Trufant got beaten on a number of plays, including a few third downs, for the most part he had a solid game in his debut in the slot. It should give the coaching staff some confidence that they made the right decision. And it should cut down on big plays given up.
The Falcons also got good production from outside corners in Robert Alford and Asante Samuel, although Samuel did give up a 59-yard touchdown to Jackson.
Trufant was injured late in the game. His status going forward remains to be determined. For the sake of the Falcons' improving defense, hopefully the injury is not serious.