Based on offensive trends heading into Sunday's game against the Bucs, it wasn't a bad bet to say things would be a shoot out. Though the score doesn't reflect it, that's what the first half was in Falcons-Bucs, but nestled behind a highly effecient first half by QB Matt Ryan was the success of the running game, specifically from the legs of Jacquizz Rodgers.
Atlanta took their opening drive 72 yards, but stalled inside the redzone to only take a field goal advantage. The Bucs answered with a score of their own, driving down the field 81 yards behind the expected strong running of rookie tailback Doug Martin to take the 7-3 edge. Along the way, Tampa never required a third-down conversion to get into the endzone.
Matt Ryan, who started the game 9-for-9 passing, answered the call, marching Atlanta back once again, capping a 75-yard drive with a Jacquizz Rodgers 5-yard touchdown run.
The running of Rodgers was significant for the Falcons in the first half as they attempted to establish the run game against the NFL's best run D. Michael Turner had some positive yards early, but Rodgers help keep the positive yards flowing. He ended the first half with 33 yards on seven carries, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Turner had a big 9-yard run late in the first half to get to 20 yards on 7 carries. The Falcons stayed balanced on offense, rushing 15 times of their 34 offensive plays. Ryan added a 13-yard run.
Tony Gonzalez was the biggest benefactor of the running game early in the first half, catching three passes for 43 yards. Roddy White got involved late in the final drive of the half, taking a pass for 29 yards. White has three catches on the day for 42 yards. Julio Jones added three catches for 42 yards and Jason Snelling chipped in three for 33 late in the half.
Atlanta's defense had some early struggles in the first half, but settled down and played strong. After a Matt Ryan interception on the third series on the wrong side of the field, they continued to answer the call. Following a big pass play for 28 yards, the Falcons stopped three goal line plays, including a third-and-1 stop for a 3-yard loss by Mike Peterson to force the game-tying field goal.
The defensive turnaround started on Tampa's second series, forcing a punt after a short series that saw sacks of Tampa QB Josh Freeman by Dunta Robinson and Kroy Biermann.
The Falcons urgency on offense conitnued to shine heading into the halftime break. They took their final possession down to the final seconds, pressuring the endzone but failed to come away with any points when Matt Bryant missed a 22-yard field goal attempt.
Matt Ryan closed the first half completing 15 of 19 passes for 173 yards.
The key stat for the Falcons defense is 24 yards allowed from Tampa's running offense in the first half.