From the beginning, Matt Ryan looked ill at ease. There were times when his face wore that “deer-in-a-headlight” expression. The Bucs seemed to play the day in a blitz, rarely ever allowing Ryan any breathing room, nor Michael Turner any running room, the same Turner, who ripped holes in the Lions defense. He was never a serious menace to the Bucs. On the other hand, take Warrick Dunn? He ran with a vengeance, and I’ll venture this: You never saw him run with that kind of determination when he was a Falcon. He must have gone away mad.
The major difference between the first two games was this: The Lions’ defense is more alleged than real, and in no way comparable to the Monte Kiffin defense the Bucs put on the field. From the first snap, Ryan had to realize he was in a different kind of game. Detroit was a breeze. Tampa Bay was a war. He had to run for his life too many times and must have made as many throw-aways as he had completions. In fact, I thought he panicked several times, which is not a good way for a new quarterback to establish his presence in the NFL. You might say he went back to college again. He’ll get a break this week when Kansas City comes to town, a team with its own aches and pains. The Chiefs tried three quarterbacks Sunday and found no relief against the team figured to be the NFL’s doormat, Oakland.
What you had to like about the Falcons was that their coach never gave up. Mike Smith is an old-schooler. After all those seasons as somebody’s assistant, he showed no signs of being a graceful loser. He threw the red flag, challenged the sideline crew, and won. He was still spitting fire down to the last whistle. No Bobby Petrino, no Jim Mora, he. You are going to get accustomed to him, and you’re going to like him. There will be, before too long, a tug of war over who gets the credit for having him on the sideline. Offhand, I’d have to say Thomas Dimitroff made the call and gets a round of huzzahs.
This game was just another class in NFL education for coaches, rookies and a lot of veterans. And ownership. You’re never too old, or too wealthy, or too self-indulgent to learn how to be a successful owner, and that goes for them all, from Jerry Jones to Arthur Blank.