Falcons romp to 56-14 win over hapless Buccaneers

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Falcons romp to 56-14 win over hapless Buccaneers
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons returns a punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons returns a punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons returns a punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey (43) defends against Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) runs back a punt toward the end zone for a touchdown after against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) moves into the end zone for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) runs into the end zone for a touchdown as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks (27) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) runs by Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Keith Tandy (37) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons avoids a tackle by punter Michael Koenen #9 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on his way to returning a punt for a touchdown during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons avoids a tackle by punter Michael Koenen #9 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on his way to returning a punt for a touchdown during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons carries the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons carries the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons carries the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 celebrates a punt return touchdown with cornerback Robert Alford #23 of the Atlanta Falcons against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 celebrates a punt return touchdown with cornerback Robert Alford #23 of the Atlanta Falcons against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons returns a punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates a punt return for a touchdown with teammates against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Devin Hester #17 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates a punt return for a touchdown with teammates against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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BY PAUL NEWBERRY
AP SPORTS WRITER

ATLANTA (AP) -- Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and high-stepping Devin Hester led the Atlanta Falcons to one of the biggest wins in franchise history.

Ryan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns, Jones hauled in nine passes for 161 yards and a couple of scores, and Hester set an NFL record with his 20th return for a TD as the Falcons routed the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14 on Thursday night.

The Falcons (2-1) led 35-0 before the Buccaneers (0-3) picked up a first down. Ryan and the other offensive starters left the game after Steven Jackson's 3-yard touchdown run made it 49-0 before the midway point of the third quarter.

Atlanta built a stunning 56-0 lead heading to the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay scored two meaningless touchdowns to avoid the worst loss in franchise history.

Hester and Jones provided the night's signature moments.

With the Falcons already up 28-0, Hester took a punt at his own 44, found a seam up the middle of the field and zipped around the last man with a chance to tackle him, punter Michael Koenen. The 56-yard play was Hester's 20th career return for a touchdown, breaking the mark he shared with former Falcons star Deion Sanders.

Sanders, now a television analyst, watched Hester's return from the sideline at the Georgia Dome. Hester high-stepped the last 10 yards are so, his left hand bobbing behind his ear - a tribute to Sanders' signature move.

Prime Time smiled broadly and waved to the crowd when he was shown on the video board, the Hall of Famer's record falling in the stadium he once proclaimed "my house."

Jones could've made the same claim after the stunning catch he made for a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Turning toward the sideline, he looked first over his left shoulder for the pass, turned his body when realized it was coming over his right shoulder, juggled the ball a bit as he tumbled into the end zone, cradling it under his arm just before slammed the turf, getting both feet down.

Coming off three interceptions in a loss at Cincinnati, Ryan bounced back with a 21-of-24 showing that set a team record for completion percentage (.875). He also hooked up with Jones on an 8-yard touchdown strike, as well as Harry Douglas on a 3-yarder.

Hester, for good measure, had a 20-yard touchdown run on an end around.

The Bucs, losing their first three games for the third time in six years, couldn't do anything right. Josh McCown was 5 of 12 for 58 yards and his fourth interception of the season was returned 23 yards for a touchdown by backup safety Kemal Ishmael.

Somewhat mercifully, McCown left the game with a thumb injury after appearing to bang his right hand off an Atlanta player's helmet on his final throw of the night. Mike Glennon went the rest of the way at quarterback.

The Falcons finished with a 488-217 edge in total yards. The Bucs had five turnovers and 110 yards in penalties on what will surely go down as one of the worst embarrassments for a franchise that knows a thing or two about losing, dropping its first 26 games after entering the NFL in 1976.

If not for Danny Lansanah's 27-yard interception return for a touchdown, Tampa Bay would've eclipsed its worst loss ever, a 48-3 blowout by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
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