With the Panthers and Saints on bye, the NFC South went 2-0 vs. the AFC West on Sunday. The Falcons improved to 6-0 despite a sloppy performance against the Raiders and the Buccaneers put an end to their three-game losing streak with a one-sided victory over the Chiefs.
What we learned: The Falcons are 6-0, but they are far from unbeatable. Some say winning close games, as the Falcons have done three times in a row, is a sign of a good team. The reason the games have been close, though, is because the Falcons have not played all that well in recent weeks. One week after committing two turnovers vs. the Redskins, QB Matt Ryan was intercepted a season-high three times vs. the Raiders, who had zero picks this season heading into Week Six. Atlanta’s defense was gashed for 474 net yards. If not for critical late-game mistakes — sloppy errors, really — by QBs Cam Newton, Kirk Cousins and Carson Palmer the past three weeks, Atlanta’s record might be much different.
What’s in store next: Atlanta is on bye in Week Seven. Their next opponent will be well rested, too, as the Eagles also will be coming off a bye when they host the Falcons in Week Eight. It will be QB Matt Ryan’s first game back in his hometown since 2010, when the Falcons lost in Week Six to Philly, 31-17, in a game in which Asante Samuel, who was with the Eagles, picked off Ryan.
What the heck? There was a lot of talk heading into the season about RB Jacquizz Rodgers becoming a bigger part of the offense and playing a Darren Sproles-like role for the Falcons. Atlanta definitely could use a spark for its 25th-ranked running game, but Rodgers has not provided a glimmer of it. After rushing twice for minus-two yards Sunday, Rodgers has 31 carries for 77 yards (2.5 average) and no touchdowns. He’s shown a bit more flare in the passing game, making 15 catches for 117 yards (7.8 average) and a TD, but the Falcons could really benefit from figuring out how to make better use of him during the bye week.
What we learned: The Bucs have given themselves a chance to make things interesting this season. A home loss coming off a bye week to the Brady Quinn-led Chiefs would have been embarrassing and devastating, but the Bucs exploded for 31 points — a point less than they scored in their last two games combined — in the second half and pulled away to end their three-game losing streak. At 2-3, they are alone in second place in the NFC South with a home game against the Saints (1-4) up next. They face the Vikings (4-2) and Raiders (1-4) after New Orleans. The Bucs have a realistic shot to at least get back to .500 by midseason.
What’s in store next: Tampa Bay will finish off its three-game homestand vs. the Saints, who had a bye in Week Six. New Orleans is desperate to turn its season around and will have a chance to move out of last place in the division for the first time this season with a win. QB Drew Brees was on a hot streak prior to the bye — he has a TD-INT ratio of 10-2 in the last three games — but the Bucs have played him tough over the past couple seasons. Brees’ TD-INT in his last four meetings with Tampa is 7-6, and the two teams have split those games.
What the heck? QB Josh Freeman’s Jekyll-and-Hyde routine in the past couple games cannot be amusing for the Bucs. He has completed only 51 percent of his passes in the first half in the past two games before turning it on in the second half, where he has completed 70 percent of his passes in the same span. Freeman has thrown a TD and two picks in the first half in his last two outings. He has thrown three TDs and no interceptions in the second half over that span. Freeman has to end the emerging pattern of putting forth less than complete games. It works against the Chiefs, but it will not work against good teams.