Football is said to be a game of inches. A play here or a play there can make the difference. Cliches that you’ve probably heard that a time or two. Or twenty. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, that proved to be true for the Buccaneers, who dropped a nailbiter to the Falcons 24-23 in front of an announced attendance of 54,400.
For the Bucs, they found out the hard way firsthand how this Atlanta Falcons team has won ten of eleven – by turning touchdown opportunities into field goals. After two turnovers, the Falcons defense held strong, keeping the Bucs out of the end zone on both occasions. The first was a Matt Ryan interception that was returned by Ronde Barber to the Atlanta 31 in the second quarter. On the very next play, Freeman hit Mike Williams with a backwards pass, who lobbed the ball deep to a wide open Vincent Jackson down to the three yard line.
However, much like the failed goal line series against the Saints, the Bucs were unable to punch the ball in the end zone, settling for a chip shot field goal after two failed runs and an incomplete pass.
In the fourth quarter, after a sack and forced fumble by E.J. Biggers off a blitz, the Bucs started from the Atlanta 36 leading 20-17, on what could have been a potentially game-clinching drive. After gaining six yards on three pass attempts, including a pass that appeared to go through Tiquan Underwood’s hands on third down, the Bucs settled for a Connor Barth 48-yard field goal and a 23-17 lead. The Falcons drove 64 yards on 6 plays on the ensuing drive to grab a 24-23 lead.
“No question,” said Josh Freeman. “I’m trying to look back and see what exactly happened on third down, but our defense coming into this game, against a team with that many weapons, I thought those guys did a great job. They gave us two turnovers and set us up in a prime position and we just couldn’t score a touchdown, kicked way too many field goals.”
The problems weren’t limited to the Bucs’ offense. The Bucs’ defense, which was without CB Eric Wright, who was inactive with a lingering achilles injury, struggled to get Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense off the field when they had the chance.
On third down, with the Bucs leading 23-17 and the Falcons inside the Bucs’ 10, Matt Ryan threw a pass out of the corner of the end zone, seeming to force a fourth down. However, a defensive holding call on Ahmad Black gave the Falcons a first down. Michael Turner scored the winning points on the next play.
The Bucs opened the second half with a scoring drive to take the lead 13-10, settling for a 42-yard FG after Freeman missed an open Mike Williams in the corner of the end zone on third down. The Falcons regained the lead 11 seconds later. Matt Ryan found Julio Jones on a go route for an 80-yard touchdown. Jones beat Leonard Johnson by a step, and shook Johnson’s tackle after the catch en route to the end zone.
For the day, Ryan completed 26 of 32 passes for 353 yards and a touchdown. Ryan was especially sharp early, not throwing an incomplete pass until well into the second quarter.
“I can’t really make an excuse for us giving up yards,” Johnson said. “All I can say is that we need to correct the small stuff, go back and get back to it.”
Following a missed 56-yard FG by Connor Barth with 3:32 left, Atlanta executed its four-minute offense successfully. Against what had been a stingy Buccaneer run defense, Jacquizz Rodgers picked up 12 yards on first down. Ryan converted a third down with 1:55 remaining on a completion to Roddy White, and the Falcons were able to bleed the clock down. A final hail mary pass from Freeman fell incomplete in the end zone as time expired.
“It’s one of those, ‘They made one or two more plays than we did’ type of games; (an) evenly matched game,” said Gerald McCoy. “They have an explosive running back, we have an explosive running back. They have two explosive receivers, we have two explosive receivers. They have a good quarterback, we have a good quarterback. Even on defense, it was an evenly as matched game as you’ve seen all year. But when that play needed to be made, they made it and we didn’t. All credit goes to them; they played a really good game and the Falcons did a great job of not making mistakes.”
- The Atlanta run defense, which had allowed over 130 yards per game (26th in the league), held Doug Martin to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries at 2.4 yards per carry.
- No other Buccaneer running back had a carry or reception on Sunday.
- Martin added 2 more rushing scores to his tally, up to 9 on the
- With 10 total touchdowns, Martin sits 3 touchdowns back of tying James Wilder with the most touchdowns in a single season in team history.
- Josh Freeman saw his string of 13 consecutive games with a touchdown pass broken.
- Ronde Barber now has 47 career interceptions, second most by an active player with his current team. Baltimore’s Ed Reed has 60.
- Atlanta RB Jacquizz Rodgers outshined teammate Michael Turner, going 10 att for 49 yards and a TD, while Turner went 13 att for 17 yards and a TD.