What it means: The Falcons sorely needed this win following a 1-4 start as they broke a three-game losing streak. They obviously corrected some issues during the bye week, most notably their protection of quarterback Matt Ryan and their pressure on the opposing quarterback. This gives the Falcons a little momentum going into consecutive road trips to Arizona and Carolina. At the same time, it was a winless team the Falcons beat.
Stock Watch: Harry Douglas stepped up in a big way. He moved into the role of primary receiver with Julio Jones (foot) out for the season and Roddy White (hamstring) missing the first game of his NFL career. Douglas had a career-high 140 receiving yards in the first half, topping his previous high of 133 against the Saints in 2011. With Tony Gonzalez having a quiet day, Ryan needed a reliable target. Douglas provided one, finishing with seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. He helped Ryan post a career-high passer rating.
On the defensive: Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan moved down from the box to the field Sunday for the first time, and it seemed to ignite the defense from the start. Nolan brought both safeties on the blitz during the Bucs’ opening drive. Strong safety William Moore caused a fumble by rookie QB Mike Glennon, and free safety Thomas DeCoud scooped it up for a 30-yard touchdown. Nolan’s blitzes really rattled Glennon early in the game.
Wounded warriors: The Falcons entered the game without starters Jones, White, Steven Jackson and Sam Baker. And injuries were once again a factor. Linebacker Akeem Dent started the game coming off an ankle injury but missed a few plays after getting banged up once again. Fellow linebackers Paul Worrilow and Stephen Nicholas also got banged up through the course of the game. At least those players remained in the game Sunday, but health will be important for the Falcons the remainder of the season. Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant limped off the field late in the fourth quarter.
Unhappy return: Rookie Robert Alford took over the punt-return duties this week to keep Douglas fresh on offense. Alford fumbled his first opportunity in the second half, setting up a Bucs touchdown. But don’t expect special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong to give up on Alford just yet. He likes Alford’s speed and athleticism.
What’s next: The Falcons travel to Arizona next Sunday, their first road trip since Sept. 22 at Miami. It will be a reunion with former teammate John Abraham. The Cardinals can bring pressure, so the much-maligned Falcons offensive line could be in trouble.