The Falcons pulled off a come from behind victory over division rival Tampa Bay with a 28-24 on the road. The Falcons got a huge boost from a 102-yard kickoff return from Eric Weems in the fourth quarter to get back into the game, and Matt Ryan engineered a game-winning drive to take the lead. The Falcons record moves to 10-2 and they are still in the driver’s seat in the NFC playoff race.
Ryan led the way, completing 18 of 36 passes for 205 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. It was not the sharpest performance from Ryan overall, but he came through in the end. Michael Turner got off to a strong start with 48 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries in the first quarter, but only finished with 88 yards on 24 carries. Roddy White led receivers with 7 grabs for 74 yards. He got help from Tony Gonzalez, Ovie Mughelli, and Michael Jenkins who each had 3 grabs for 38, 32, and 30 yards respectively. Jenkins caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Ryan, and Ovie Mughelli had a score of his own. Gonzalez left the game late with an ankle injury, the severity of which is not known yet.
The Falcons took an early lead on their second offensive series mainly due to the work that Turner put in on the ground, capping off their drive with a 5-yard scoring run. But the Bucs bounced back with a drive of their own off the legs of LeGarrette Blount to tie the game. Both teams then traded shots until midway through the second quarter, when a personal foul on the Bucs allowed the Falcons to convert a 2nd & 28 near midfield. It gave them prime position to score 3 plays later on a 17-yard pass to fullback Ovie Mughelli. A quick three and out gave the Falcons the ball back with about 2 minutes to go, but Ryan threw an interception which gave the Bucs good field position and they were able to tie up the score 14-14 going into halftime. The second half started with the Bucs marching down the field and getting a 33-yard field goal to take their first lead of the game. The Falcons appeared to wake up when Brent Grimes intercepted a Josh Freeman pass on the Bucs next possession, but replay overturned the call. But the Falcons defense was able to make a stand and force a Bucs punt several plays later. The Falcons offense couldn’t get much of anything going, and things looked dreariest when Ryan threw his second interception on the opening play of a drive with 12:33 remaining in the 4th quarter. The Bucs capitalized four plays later with another touchdown. But Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards to get the Falcons back into the game, down only 24-21 with 10 minutes to go. The Falcons defense made an excellent stand, capped off by a sack by Jonathan Babineaux giving the Falcons the ball back with 8:30 to go. Things didn’t look good with the Falcons facing a 3rd & 20 following a holding call on Harvey Dahl on first down. But Ryan hit Roddy White for a 25-yard strike to convert and move the chains. The Falcons were able to get another third down conversion on a pass interference call against Gonzalez. A horse collar tackle on Michael Turner two plays later had the Falcons inside the redzone. And three plays later Ryan hit Jenkins for the game winner with 4:36 to go. The Bucs would get one more chance to go ahead and appeared to be driving when Josh Freeman hit Sammie Stroughter for 19 yards to convert a 4th & 12 and give the Bucs the ball at the Falcon 27. But the next play, Grimes had a make-up interception for the one that was taken away previously. The Bucs challenged, but the ruling on the field was upheld giving the Falcons the ball back and the game. The Falcons proceeded to run out the last two minutes of the game to get the victory.
Defensively, the Falcons didn’t have a great performance, but were able to make some stops when necessary to get the win. They gave up 103 yards to LeGarrette Blount, the first time they have allowed a single 100-yard rusher since Week 2 this season. But the Bucs were held to only 5 of 15 on third down conversions. Mike Peterson led the defense with 10 tackles. John Abraham (3 tackles), Jonathan Babineaux (2 tackles, 1 sack), Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles), Brent Grimes (7 tackles, 1 interception), Curtis Lofton (9 tackles), William Moore (7 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (6 tackles), and Dunta Robinson (3 tackles) all had notable games.
Matt Bryant had it easy today with no field goal attempts, just four makes on his extra points. Michael Koenen had 5 punts for an average of 40.8 yards with 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. In addition to his big return, Weems finished the day with 163 yards on 4 kickoff returns, and added a lone punt return for 10 yards.
Next week the Falcons face another division rival on the road when they travel to Carolina to face the Panthers (1-10). The Falcons have split their season series with the Panthers each of the past four seasons, and split their road games in that span as well. But they have lost their most recent two journeys to Carolina. The Panthers will be looking for the first division victory of the season, while the Falcons will look to remain undefeated in the NFC South through 4 games.