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Falcons put NFC South on alert with romp of Bucs

A collection of 53 men pretending to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invaded Atlanta on Thursday night.

Their ruse was quickly exposed, as quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons left the visiting contingent in tatters during a 56-14 hammer-drop.

Atlanta's quick-strike air attack carved through Lovie Smith's injury-riddled defense from wire to wire, as Ryan completed his first six passes and never looked back for an offense that piled up 16 first downs before Tampa earned its first.

If Ryan's handiwork against the Saints in Week 1 hinted at a monster campaign, Thursday's romp was further proof. Exiting midway through the third period, Ryan finished 21-of-24 passing for 286 yards with three scores and a passer rating of 155.9.

Facing a swarm of three-wideout sets, the Bucs were no match for the combination of Julio Jones and Devin Hester. Jones piled up an outrageous 121 yards by halftime, while a rejuvenated Hester drove a nail into Tampa's coffin early in the second quarter with a 20-yard end around that carved out a 28-0 lead.

Hester was a revelation. After reversing a would-be Tampa fumble recovery with a strip of Bucs safety Mark Barron, the jitterbug broke Deion Sanders' record with his 20th career return touchdown. It's especially embarrassing for Smith that Atlanta has found a way to showcase Hester on offense when Lovie's Bears never cracked that code.

Why Tampa continued to kick the ball to Hester deep into the game remains one of life's rich mysteries.

The Falcons were equally dominant on defense. After allowing 472 yards in each of their first two games, coordinator Mike Nolan's bunch tightened the screws to force five turnovers while allowing just 3.9 yards per play.

Before exiting with a right thumb injury, Bucs quarterback Josh McCown steered a lost vessel as Tampa was held to 63 yards on its first eight drives.

When the Falcons operate at this level, they rage around the field as a maddening headache for opponents. The Bucs offered no answer, no retort and no antidote for what Atlanta poured out on Thursday night.

The NFC South is on high alert.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps the Falcons' lopsided win over the Bucs and previews every other game in Week 3.

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