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ATLANTA – For Matt Ryan, the season opener was pure brilliance.
Week 2? Not so much.
Coming off a three-interception performance, Matty Ice will be looking to bounce back when the Atlanta Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.
"You can't turn the football over," Ryan said. "Any way you slice it, you can't do that and expect to win. I've got to be better than that."
Ryan has never been better than he was in Week 1, throwing for a franchise-record 448 yards with three touchdowns to almost single-handedly carry the Falcons to an overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints.
But the Cincinnati Bengals made things awfully tough on Ryan this past Sunday. He was sacked twice, hit nine times, didn't have much time to look deep, and struggled to find anyone open on the shorter routes.
Ryan finished just 24 of 44 for 231 yards, tossing three interceptions for only the sixth time in 96 career starts as the Bengals romped to a 24-10 victory over the Falcons (1-1).
"I don't think there's any doubt that Matt is going to bounce back," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We've got to take care of the football. That's the most important thing. If we win the turnover battle, we're going to enhance our chances of winning games, so that's something that we definitely have to do better on the offensive side."
The Buccaneers (0-2) need to do a lot of things better on the offensive side. They have scored only 31 points and averaged less than 300 yards per game with 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown at quarterback.
McCown already has thrown three interceptions, including a big pick when the Bucs had the St. Louis Rams on the ropes last week.
"You have to protect the football," said Lovie Smith, in his first year as the Bucs coach after a long tenure in Chicago. "Sometimes it's good to just bring the ball down and live to see another day."
McCown knows he can't afford those sort of reckless mistakes against the Falcons.
"It really felt like I did a lot of good things, except the three turnovers," he said. "I'm pleased with how I'm playing and throwing the ball and those things. I feel like that part has been good. It's just getting out of the pocket and making bad decisions with the ball, and you can't do those things."
Here are some other things to watch for when the Falcons host Tampa Bay:
INJURY REPORT: Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin didn't play against the Rams because of a knee injury, though Bobby Rainey did a stellar job filling in with 144 yards rushing. Martin was limited in practice and listed as questionable, as were two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand) and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle). Linebacker Mason Foster definitely won't play after going out of the last game with a shoulder injury.
The Falcons are in better shape, with rookie left tackle Jake Matthews expected to start after missing the Bengals game with a sprained ankle. The only big concern is receiver Roddy White, who didn't practice at all because of an ailing hamstring.
FALCONS LINE: Matthews' return should bolster Atlanta's leaky offensive line, though there are still questions on the right side. Tackle Lamar Holmes performed poorly against the Bengals and could be challenged for playing time by Gabe Carimi, who stepped in for Matthews last week. Atlanta averaged just 4.6 yards on its 44 passing attempts against Cincinnati, not acceptable for a team with star receivers White and Julio Jones.
NO PRESSURE: The Falcons are only team in the NFL that doesn't have a sack. In fact, they have only had one quarterback hit — on a play which resulted in a 76-yard touchdown for the Bengals. Atlanta has also struggled against the run, ranking 26th by allowing 154.5 yards per game.
HERE THEY GO AGAIN: The Bucs are facing another dismal start, a trend in recent seasons. Tampa Bay lost its first seven games in 2009, and got off to an 0-8 start a year ago. If the Bucs lose to Atlanta, their playoff hopes will pretty much be over before the season is three weeks old. The last team to make the postseason under the current format after an 0-3 start was Buffalo in 1998.
DEVIN VS LOVIE: Falcons return specialist Devin Hester spent his first seven years playing for Smith in Chicago. Now, they will be facing each other for the first time. "It's going to be weird," said Hester, who signed with the Falcons during the offseason. "I wish the best for him. But at the same time, I hope we win."
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