The Buccaneers (3-4) host the Falcons (5-3) on “Thursday Night Football” in a rematch of Week 1. The Bucs won that game, which did two things: Gave us all the impression that first-year coach Dirk Koetter, and second-year quarterback Jameis Winston were not only going to improve on last season’s 6-10 mark, but were serious about making a playoff run. And the Falcons, where Matt Ryan was inconsistent a season ago, still hadn’t sorted out their issues — on both offense and defense.
Now, two months later, we have a clearer picture of these two teams — and a gentle reminder that making grand proclamations after one week of football remains an incredibly stupid idea. In that time, the Bucs have gone 2-4 while the Falcons are 5-2.
The two biggest reasons for the divergent paths? The quarterbacks.
That’s hardly revolutionary; we’ve been beaten about the head in recent years about how the NFL is a passing league that, it turns out, is woefully short on passers. Both Winston and Ryan are high first-round picks, both have had early success, and both have also struggled.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, Winston is living through his sophomore slump, one that included a four-pick game against the Cardinals in Week 2, and a three-game stretch of four touchdowns against seven interceptions and two lost fumbles. The Bucs went 0-3.
In early October, coach Dirk Koetter admitted that he was “very” concerned with Winston, but added that things could be worse.
“He’s not regressing, but we’ve got to take care of the football,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got to take care of the football. We can’t turn it over three times in a half. We just can’t do that.”
Winston has shown improvement in recent weeks but the inconsistencies remain. But that’s the deal; young quarterbacks, even the ridiculously talented ones, have growing pains. Look no further than Ryan, who helped the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons only to see his game fall off a cliff from 2013-2015.
Meanwhile, it’s all coming together in 2016, Ryan’s second season in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. In eight starts, he’s completing a career-high 69 percent of his throws for a career-high 9.4 yards per attempt. The results: A career-high touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4.75. Both men deserve credit; Ryan for buying into the system, Shanahan for tailoring that system to simplify Ryan’s strengths.
“Sometimes you have to go through the rough patches and go through the adversity to say, alright man, we’re in this together. That’s the cool part about those two,” coach Dan Quinn told SI.com’s Jonathan Jones of Shanahan and Ryan. “They totally relied on one another, but you have to go through the difficult process. Now their communication is better than it’s ever been.”
The Falcons are 5-3, a game behind where they were a year ago, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. This team is more confident, more explosive, and a lot more dangerous. It starts with Ryan, who is a legit MVP candidate.
How to watch
- What: Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- When: Thursday, Nov. 3, 8:25 p.m. ET
- Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
- TV: NFL Network
- Play-by-play: Al Michaels
- Color analyst: Cris Collinsworth
- Sideline reporter: Heather Cox
- Streaming: Verizon NFL Mobile app
- Sunday Ticket: DirecTV
- Online: NFL Game Pass (available to watch online after midnight)
- Odds: The Falcons are currently 4.0-point favorite,s according to Bovada
- SportsLine: Falcons are minus 4.0
It’s Color Rush Thursday, everybody!
If the Falcons’ uniforms look familiar, it’s because they won’t get to wear their official Color Rush unis until next season.
“The Falcons selected a bold all-red head-to-toe uniform aesthetic, however due to a color conflict in their Thursday night matchup against Tampa Bay on November 3, Atlanta will wear their white uniform as the away team,” the team’s website explained in September. “As the home team, the Buccaneers — who also chose an all-red look — will wear their Color Rush uniform while the Falcons will wear all-white.
“The Falcons join eight other NFL teams that will also be unable to wear their Color Rush jerseys this season but, rest assured, Atlanta fans can expect to see the Falcons in their official Color Rush uniforms in seasons to come.”
This is a big game in the division, and Tampa Bay beat Atlanta earlier in the season. This Atlanta team is much better now, and Matt Ryan will light up a Tampa Bay secondary that couldn’t stop Derek Carr last Sunday. Falcons take it.
Prisco’s prediction: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 21
More ‘TNF’ on Twitter is in your future
Thursday’s game won’t be shown live on Twitter but you’ll be able to stream five more games this season at tnf.twitter.com.
You’ll also be able use your mobile device or tablet with the NFL Network app. Kickoff is at 8:25 p.m. ET.
In addition to live streaming, the NFL-Twitter partnership also includes in-game highlights from “Thursday Night Football” and pre-game Periscope broadcasts from players and teams.
Here’s the remaining NFL-Twitter TNF schedule:
- Week 11, Nov. 17: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
- Week 13, Dec. 1: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
- Week 14, Dec. 8: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
- Week 15, Dec. 15: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
- Week 16, Dec. 22: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles