Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) runs with the ball after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Buccaneers 31-23. (Photo: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
ATLANTA — With wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White out, the Atlanta Falcons needed someone to step up in a major way. Harry Douglas did just that.
The six-year veteran caught seven passes from Matt Ryan for a career-best 149 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak with a 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“Harry had a career day,” coach Mike Smith said. “Everybody’s role in the NFL changes. Harry’s changed two weeks ago because of our situation at wide receiver. He stepped up to the plate and did an extremely good job.”
Douglas adjusted to make a sparkling grab for a 54-yard gain in the second quarter and then caught a 37-yard TD pass to put the Falcons up 24-7 with a little more than five minutes left before halftime.
“Harry is a very good wide receiver,” Smith said. “He just hasn’t had an opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver and he was the No. 1 receiver in the game today.”
The TD was Douglas’ first of the season and he came in averaging 13.7 yards on 16 catches. He averaged 21.3 yards.
“He played a great game,” said Ryan, who was 20 of 26 for 273 yards and three touchdowns while compiling a 148.4 quarterback rating. “He stepped up for us when we needed him to.”
The Falcons will continue to need Douglas at his best. Jones had surgery after breaking his foot in the previous game against the New York Jets and it isn’t known how long White, hobbled most of the season with ankle and hamstring issues, will be out.
“I hope you’re not surprised by what Harry did,” record-holding tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “He’s definitely a capable person.”
Sunday’s game was the first that White had missed in his NFL career. He had played in 133 consecutive games, third on the Falcons behind Jeff Van Note’s 155 straight games and Todd McClure’s 144.
Drew Davis made his first NFL start and Darius Johnson, elevated from the practice squad, was the third wide receiver. Johnson had two catches and Davis one -- a nifty sideline grab for 24 yards.
The Falcons made some changes during the bye week. One was the decision to move defensive coordinator Mike Nolan from the press box to the sideline.
“We weren’t playing as efficiently and as good as we would have liked to and we thought it would be in our best interest to bring Mike down,” Smith said.
“Mike has called games from the press box and from the sideline. It was a discussion that we had. We felt it was in our best interest to put him down there. That was the decision that was made last week.”
The 23 points that the Falcons gave up to the Bucs was their lowest total since the opening 23-17 loss at New Orleans. They allowed 24, 27, 30 and 30 in the next four games.
Jackson still sidelined
Steven Jackson, Atlanta’s key free agent offensive upgrade in the offseason, missed his fourth straight game and Falcons’ running backs gained just 30 yards on 15 carries against Tampa Bay.
Jacquizz Rodgers, though, stepped up as a receiver. He caught eight passes and scored from 19 and 8 yards out.
Jackson hasn’t played since injuring a calf while scoring a touchdown early in the victory over the St. Louis Rams – his former team – on Sept. 15 in the second game of the season.
Dent back in action
Akeem Dent, who was knocked out of the loss to the New York Jets early with a sprained ankle, returned against Tampa Bay without missing a game thanks to the bye week.
The Falcons, though, lost backup linebacker Stephen Nicholas to a thigh injury in the first quarter and are still without defensive leader Sean Weatherspoon.
Weatherspoon, who injured his foot against St. Louis, is targeting the second game with the Bucs on Nov. 17 at Tampa for his return.
Plenty of no-shows
The Falcons announced a 44th straight sellout, breaking the team record of 43 set in 2002-2007. But the Georgia Dome seemed to have nearly a third of its seats empty at kickoff and at least 10,000 of them were never occupied.
The official attendance was 69,522. That total is tickets distributed.