The Atlanta Falcons ended their five-game losing streak by coming off their bye week with a tough approach up front.
Coach Mike Smith gave more help to Atlanta's offensive line, which has had four starters suffer season-ending injuries. Tackle Gabe Carimi started at tight end in the "jumbo" formation, adding more muscle to the offensive front and more punch to a rushing attack that has struggled most of the season.
Steven Jackson ran for a season-high 81 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 27-17 win at Tampa Bay. The win provided relief from the losing streak that prompted questions about Smith's job security.
"We got Steven rolling with bigger bodies in the game," Smith said Monday. "It was not a thought of trying to spread them out. It was more about putting some big bodies in there and winning the line of scrimmage. I thought we did a good job."
The Falcons, who play at Carolina on Sunday, took their first win since beating Tampa Bay 56-14 in Atlanta on Sept. 18.
"There was a line drawn in the sand and we weren't going to let them step over it and they were trying to do the same thing," Smith said.
Rookie left tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Justin Blalock are the only surviving members of Atlanta's offensive line from the start of the season. Matthews had to move from right tackle following injuries to Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes.
Rookie James Stone, who signed with the team in May as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee, is the team's third starting center. Former starters Joe Hawley and Peter Konz are on IR with Baker, Holmes and Mike Johnson, who was expected to be a top backup.
Other starters on the makeshift line are veteran guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Ryan Schraeder, another undrafted free agent.
"It's a different looking group from what we started the season with and we know that's going to get better," Smith said. "We felt like they were improved from the previous week."
The line earned compliments from Jackson and quarterback Matt Ryan.
"I thought our offensive line did a nice job and I thought Steven Jackson played extremely physically," Ryan said. "He went out there running between the tackles and did a great job for us. Hats off to him, I thought he played really well, and hats off to our offensive line.
"I think the five of those guys being able to play a couple weeks back to back and having some time during the bye week to work together, I think that's very good for us moving forward."
The line gave up only one sack.
Jackson said Asamoah and Blalock have been leaders for the younger linemen.
"We have three younger guys out there along with the two veteran guards," Jackson said. "That seemed to be a really good chemistry. The guys are playing really tough. They are giving me some holes to run though and I am just being myself from that point."
Despite the long losing streak, the Falcons (3-6) finished Sunday's game only a game behind first-place New Orleans in the weak NFC South.
"Certainly with the way the division has played out so far this year, it keeps us right in the mix," Ryan said. "We've got to keep the same mindset going forward, try to knock these wins out one at a time and hopefully at the end of the year we'll have enough to keep playing."