Led by Jones, Falcons’ surge continues with win over Bucs
ATLANTA (AP) — Julio Jones had a record-breaking afternoon. Mohamed Sanu pitched in with his arm, and Tevin Coleman contributed a couple big plays on the ground.
The Atlanta Falcons “got a little swag back,” according to Sanu.
“We’re just having fun,” Sanu said. “Everybody is going out there and doing their job. ... We’ve just got to keep building.”
With Jones flashing his 2016 Pro Bowl form, the Falcons (7-4) are on their same pace as in 2016, when they advanced to the Super Bowl. Jones set NFL records for most catches and yards receiving for the first 90 games.
“He’s a beast,” Falcons safety Keanu Neal said. “He’s a freak. We all know that. He showed out today.”
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, suffered a setback in their attempt to revive their season. Last-place Tampa Bay (4-7) had won two in a row.
The Buccaneers already have matched their loss total from last season, when they finished 9-7.
“This one hurts,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
Added Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter: “I’m really disappointed in today. As far as evaluating the season, you do that at the end, but we didn’t get it done today and they are not canceling the rest of the season because we aren’t going to have a better record.”
The Buccaneers were unable to stop Jones, who also had a 25-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
“We tried rolling the coverage to him,” Koetter said. “We tried pressing him. We didn’t have an answer for him today.”
Tampa Bay didn’t go down without a fight. After trailing 27-6, the Buccaneers rallied. Peyton Barber’s second touchdown run, a 1-yarder early in the fourth quarter, cut the deficit to 27-20.
Brent Grimes’ 37-yard return after recovering a fumble by Atlanta’s Terron Ward helped set up the Buccaneers for a potential tying drive. The comeback ended when Neal deflected Ryan Fitzpatrick’s fourth-down pass to tight end Cameron Brate from the Falcons 18.
The Falcons iced the win with an 82-yard touchdown drive capped by Coleman’s 14-yard run .
Coleman, again playing the lead role at running back with Devonta Freeman sidelined by a concussion, had 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Sanu had eight catches for 64 yards, plus his touchdown pass to Jones on a play each said they had never rehearsed in a full-speed practice. Matt Ryan completed 26 of 35 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown.
Here are some more things to know about the Falcons’ first division win of the season:
Tampa Bay lost running back Doug Martin (concussion), safety T.J. Ward (concussion), safety Josh Robinson (hamstring), and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (back). Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant suffered a concussion in a collision with Neal, and cornerback Brian Poole also departed with a lower back injury.
SANU TO JULIO
Sanu is the first receiver since the 1970 merger to throw two 50-yard or longer TD passes. He had a 73-yarder for Cincinnati in 2012. He’s also the first non-QB to do it in a career since Walter Payton in 1979 and ’83.
Sanu’s improbable scoring pass to Jones almost was a busted play. Sanu took the direct snap with Ryan lined up wide right and then briefly bobbled the ball on a fake handoff to Coleman. Sanu recovered, showing off his strong arm for the perfect deep pass.
“I just let it go,” Sanu said, adding the two had only practiced the play “in a walkthrough a couple times. We never practiced it full speed.”
Ryan was impressed.
“That was about as good as it gets in terms of a throw,” Ryan said.
Koetter second-guessed himself for calling a pass play on the key fourth-and-1 situation. He said a better option with about seven minutes remaining might have been a field-goal attempt to cut the deficit to four points.
“I told the players I should have given them a better play,” he said. “It didn’t work so that is on me.”
A PERFECT PASSER
Sanu is 6 for 6 passing for 228 yards with three touchdowns for his career. He became the first Atlanta player other than Ryan to throw a touchdown pass since 2009.
Jones posted his third career game with at least 250 yards receiving. No other player in NFL history has more than one.
Jones also set NFL records for the most catches (563) and yards receiving (8,649) in the first 90 games of a career. Anquan Boldin had 558 catches through 90 games. Lance Alworth had 8,502 yards receiving through 90 games.
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