Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith (35) moves past Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dashon Goldson (38) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. Smith scored a touchdown on the play.
ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have played well twice at home and looked terrible in one road game.
But following Thursday's 56-14 victory over Tampa Bay, Ryan was delighted to head into a long weekend without having to worry about starting the season poorly for a second straight year.
The Falcons, coming off a 4-12 record that caused Ryan to question his entire offseason training regimen, are off to a 2-1 start.
"We talked about all week that we wanted to start fast and rebound from last week," Ryan said. "With that being said, even as good as tonight was, I think there are areas where we can improve and get better."
The Buccaneers were flat in their first two games, but still only lost at home by a combined eight points to Derek Anderson-led Carolina and Austin Davis-led St. Louis.
Even with important playmakers like Gerald McCoy, Mason Foster and Doug Martin injured and unable to suit up, nobody among the Bucs thought this kind of performance was possible.
"I thought I had our football team ready to play, and obviously we weren't ready to play," Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. "Again, it was all phases. We couldn't stop them on defense, couldn't score any points on offense. On special teams, you know, we couldn't get anything going there."
Some things to consider for both teams:
HARD TO STOP: Ryan has seen receiver Julio Jones make some remarkable plays in their four years together.
Jones made an acrobatic, 40-yard catch midway through the third, looking first over his left shoulder for Ryan's deep pass and then adjusting to catch the ball over his right shoulder to beat cornerback Alterraun Verner and make it 42-0.
Jones had nine catches for a career-high 161 yards.
"He's a special talent, and we talk about it all the time," Ryan said. "When we get him in that situation, we just feel like we can put the ball up and he's going to come down with it."
BANGED UP BUC: Bucs quarterback Josh McCown left the game in the second quarter with a thumb injury and did not return. McCown didn't know an immediate diagnosis.
"I either got it hit by a helmet or when the defender landed on me as my thumb was under me when I hit the ground," McCown said. "I tried to grab the ball on the sidelines, but just wasn't able to grip it."
The 35-year-old McCown's career record dropped to 20-45.
GIMME SOME LOVIN': Devin Hester thought it might be a special night when he spoke to Lovie Smith's wife before the game.
MaryAnne Smith hugged Hester on the field and wished him good luck. It was the first time that Lovie Smith, Hester's former coach in Chicago, was facing off against the star return specialist.
It was just the kind of night Hester envisioned — a victory for his new team as he broke the NFL record for career touchdown returns with 20.
The big moment came on his 62-yard punt return that made it 35-0 in the second quarter. Hester also scored a 20-yard TD on a reverse and recovered a fumble.
"I know I'm one of coach Lovie's favorites," Hester said. "Just the years we've grown together — I love that guy a lot, man. I told him before the game. Unfortunately, you know, we're on opposite teams, but I told him if I break this record tonight, you'll be here to see it."
UP NEXT: The Falcons visit Minnesota in Week 4. Tampa Bay is on the road against Pittsburgh.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Bucs trailed 35-0 before their offense managed a first down. ... The victory was the second-largest win in Falcons history and the team's most lopsided since they beat the New Orleans 62-7 in 1973. ... Tampa Bay committed five turnovers, losing four fumbles and having a McCown interception returned by obscure Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael that made it 21-0 in the first quarter. ... Ryan had as many touchdown passes (three) as he had incompletions. ... The Falcons are 2-0 against NFC South opponents, Tampa Bay 0-2.
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