The NFL's passing yardage leader was nearly flawless again Thursday night, throwing for 344 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions to help the NFC South leaders tighten their grip on first place with a 43-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"He had a real locked-in look about him," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Matt's really been on point with where to go with the ball."
Julio Jones had eight receptions for 111 yards and a TD as the Falcons (6-3) avenged a 31-24 season-opening loss to the Bucs (3-5) in Atlanta. Tampa Bay has dropped two straight on the heels of a three-game winning streak that got them back in the division race.
"They played a little better than we did that day. I feel like we have continued to improve," Ryan said. "For me, the best thing from a confidence standpoint is that we continue to get better, week in and week out."
Jones, who's closing in on another 1,000-yard receiving season with 970 through nine games, caught a 3-yard scoring pass in the third quarter, when Ryan led TD drives of 86 and 82 yards to break it open.
Jameis Winston threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns for Tampa Bay, including scoring passes of 3 and 24 yards to Evans, who had 11 receptions.
Both of Tampa Bay's young stars finished the game on the sideline, with Evans being evaluated for a possible concussion and Winston limping off after being shaken up when he was tackled trying to score on a two-point conversion play with just under seven minutes remaining.
Koetter didn't provide much of an update on either's condition, other than to say "Jameis told me he's fine" and that Evans was in the concussion protocol after taking a hard hit along the sideline after making a catch in the fourth quarter.
Winston was tackled around the ankle by Atlanta's Brooks Reed and also hit by cornerback Jalen Collins. The first overall pick in last year's draft said he was fine and did not leave the game because of injury.
"The coach took me out," said Winston, who later did a little dance move to demonstrate to reporters that he was OK.
RING OF HONOR: The Bucs inducted former safety John Lynch into the team's Ring of Honor. Together with Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, Lynch formed the foundation of a dominating defense that helped transform Tampa Bay from the laughingstock of the NFL into a Super Bowl champion. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last winter, Lynch played for the Bucs 1993 to 2003 and the Denver Broncos from 2004 to 2007. He was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Honor earlier this month.
NO CONFIDENCE?: The Bucs defense yielded 626 yards , including 513 passing, during last week's 30-24 overtime loss to Oakland. That may have contributed to the decision Thursday night to decline a 15-yard face mask against the Falcons, settling for Matt Bryant kicking a 41-yard field goal for a 13-7 Atlanta lead instead of giving Ryan a chance to convert third-and-22 from the Tampa Bay 38
MATTY ICE: Ryan has thrown for 1,344 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last four games against the Bucs, who had won three straight in the division rivalry. The Bucs lead the all-time series 24-23.
GOTCHA: Bucs DT Gerald McCoy talked this week about his admiration for Ryan , but reiterated that good sportsmanship should never be confused with a lack of commitment to do whatever to necessary to win. He said he'd shake the quarterback's hand before and after the game, but spend the rest of the night trying to make the NFL passing yardage leader uncomfortable. McCoy sacked Ryan in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that led to Winston's second TD pass to Evans.
INJURIES: With Doug Martin (hamstring) and Jacquizz Rodgers (foot) inactive, rookie Peyton Barber became the fourth different starting running back for Tampa Bay this season. Bucs C Joe Hawley left with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant left with a shoulder injury in the first half and did not return.
UP NEXT: The Falcons travel to Philadelphia, while the Bucs finish a three-game homestand against Chicago on Nov. 13.
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