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High-flying Falcons offense wins big against the Buccaneers

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Atlanta strengthened its hold on the NFC South with a dominant division win.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

During the first half of Thursday Night Football featuring the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it looked as though it might be a close, evenly matched game. Then the Falcons reminded everyone why they’ve been the top offense in the league through most of the season, pulling off a 43-28 win.

Much of the Falcons’ success has come from Matt Ryan’s ability to spread the ball around to a number of targets. On Thursday night, Ryan hit seven different receivers for 344 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Falcons were missing some key players, with running back Tevin Coleman sidelined with a hamstring injury and tight end Jacob Tamme out with a shoulder injury. The rest of the offensive roster stepped up, with rookie tight end Austin Hooper hauling in a touchdown pass in Tamme’s absence.

Atlanta got creative with the running game, incorporating wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for some carries. Gabriel had a solid performance against the Bucs, with 24 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 52 receiving yards. Devonta Freeman had 77 yards on the ground and added 28 on two catches.

Julio Jones put the game out of reach with a reality-defying touchdown catch late in the third quarter to extend the Falcons’ lead to 33-14.

Jones finished the game with 111 yards, marking the 33rd time in his career that he’s exceeded 100 receiving yards in a single game.

It didn’t help that the Buccaneers were decimated by injuries. Over the course of the game, Tampa Bay lost its starting center, Joe Hawley, to a knee injury. Quarterback Jameis Winston left late in the game with a knee injury, and wide receiver Mike Evans was removed to be evaluated for a concussion.

The Bucs were already missing Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers, and running back Antone Smith left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter, making an already thin running back group even thinner.

The Falcons are favored to win the NFC South, and a dominant win over the Bucs helps strengthen Atlanta’s hold on the division.