Falcons lose in finale against Bucs

Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Samuel walks dejectedly off the field.

The Falcons looked sluggish in a season finale loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 22-17. The Falcons opted to play the majority of their starters, but the offense stagnated early. While the Falcons were able to score some points late to make the game interesting, they could not overcome the early lead the Bucs built up. The Falcons finish the 2012 regular season with a 13-3 record, an NFC South title, and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Matt Ryan played the entire game, completing 28 of 44 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons running game did not do much, with Jacquizz Rodgers leading the team with 28 yards on 5 carries. Michael Turner added 18 yards on 6 carries and a touchdown. Rodgers also led receivers with 8 catches for 50 yards. Julio Jones (3 catches, 56 yards), Roddy White (5 catches, 42 yards), and Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 41 yards). The lone passing touchdown was caught by Harry Douglas, who finished the game with 4 catches for 21 yards. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 28 yards out. Matt Bosher punted 6 times for an average of 50.8 yards, with 3 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Bosher had a punt blocked. Rodgers returned 3 kickoffs for 59 yards, while Douglas took over punt return duties from Dominique Franks and had 4 returns for 42 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons gave a decent effort, keeping the Bucs offense in check for most of the day. They allowed 366 total yards, including 144 yards on the ground which made the difference in the second half. The Falcons had held the Bucs to only 37 rushing yards in the first half on 12 carries, but thanks in large part to a 40-yard scoring run by Doug Martin, they could not slow down the Bucs ground attack in the second half. Sean Weatherspoon led defenders with 8 tackles. Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles); Akeem Dent (3 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (6 tackles); Corey Peters (3 tackles); Asante Samuel (2 tackles, 1 interception); and Vance Walker (5 tackles) had notable games.

On the opening drive of the game, the Falcons were successful in moving the ball to midfield. On the seventh play, Ryan hit Roddy White on a 6-yard pass leaving them a yard shy of the first down marker, forcing the team to punt for the first time. Josh Freeman led the Bucs down the field, completing 4 of 5 passes for 34 yards, but ultimately settling for a 48-yard field goal from Connor Barth. The Bucs took a 3-0 lead with about six and half minutes to play in the first quarter. The Falcons responded with a field goal drive of their own, going 62 yards on 9 plays leading to a 28-yard field goal from Matt Bryant. The ground game was key, as Jacquizz Rodgers 16-yard run on the second play of the drive really help get the Falcons good field position. From the Bucs 16-yard line, Ryan scrambled out of the pocket and was forced to throw the ball away. Initially the refs called intentional grounding but picked up the flag due to Harry Douglas being in the area. Ryan would scramble 6 yards on 3rd & 10 on the next play to set up Bryant’s field goal. On the ensuing Bucs series, Freeman would hit Tiquan Underwood for a 17-yard completion on 3rd & 8, but three plays later Asante Samuel stepped up and tripped up Luke Stocker shy of the sticks on 3rd & 9 to force a Bucs punt as the second quarter began. The Falcons responded with a 3-and-out and punting it right back to the Buccaneers. Freeman would find Stocker on two consecutive passes for a combined 43 yards to put the ball in Falcon territory. Four plays later, Freeman would avoid pressure and find a crossing Mike Williams in the back of the endzone for an 8-yard score to give the Bucs a 10-3 lead with 8:43 left in the half. On the next Falcons series, Rodgers would have a 12-yard run negated by a questionable illegal block penalty by Julio Jones. Two plays later, Douglas would convert with a 10-yard reception on 3rd & 5. Two plays later, Ryan would have a quick slant nearly picked off by Lavonte David and then threw behind Douglas on the ensuing 3rd down. At their own 37-yard line, the Falcons went for the punt, but a low snap by Josh Harris and a missed block by Michael Palmer, the punt would be blocked. The Bucs would take over at the Falcons’ 26-yard line. Martin would gain 8 yards on 3rd & 2 to put the ball at the Falcons 10-yard line on the ensuing drive. But the Falcons defense would hold, thanks to a batted pass by John Abraham, and a tackle for loss by Jonathan Babineaux. The Bucs would settle for a 22-yard field goal from Barth to push their lead to 10 points with 3 minutes to play in the half. A quick screen to Julio Jones to start the next Falcons drive would go for 28 yards. But the offense stagnated after that, and with pressure in his face on 3rd & 1, Ryan would be forced to throw it away leading to another punt again. The Bucs would have a three-and-out of their own, thanks to Thomas DeCoud tipping a screen pass to Doug Martin that fell incomplete. The Falcons would get one more shot with 1:11 left on the first half clock at their own 44-yard line. Ryan would be sacked on a blitz on second down, setting up a 3rd & 19. Jason Snelling would go for 16 yards on the next play to set up a makeable 4th & 3. But the Falcons would let the clock tick down to 5 seconds before taking their final timeout. Looking for a hail mary, a free blitzer off the edge got to Ryan for another sack and the first half was over. The Bucs retained a 13-3 lead.

The second half began with Freeman finding Williams deep along the sidelined for a 23-yard gain. He would convert three plays later on a checkdown to Martin for 12 yards on 3rd & 6. The Bucs would then convert another third down a few plays later with a 16-yard completion to Vincent Jackson. But the defense would step up with Weatherspoon breaking up Freeman’s next pass to Jackson, followed by a hit on Freeman by Stephen Nicholas that forced an errant pass. The defense would hold on 3rd down after Freeman missed Williams on a high throw, and the Bucs had to settle for another field. Barth would hit the 42-yarder to give the Bucs a 16-3 lead to start the third quarter. The Falcons offense did not respond, moving the ball very little on the next drive. On 3rd & 4, Ryan’s pass was behind Jones and nearly picked off forcing another Bosher punt. The Bucs would turn to the ground game on their next possession, running it 4 times for 15 yards to start the drive. But two plays later, Freeman’s pass to Underwood was jumped by Asante Samuel, who intercepted the ball and returned it 11 yards to the Bucs’ 21-yard line to set up the Falcons offense. Two runs by Michael Turner, including a 17-yard run right up the gut put the Falcons in the endzone. Turner was able to break a pair of tackles as he carried a defender into the endzone on the latter run for the score. The Falcons had now cut the lead to 6 points with 3:45 left in the third quarter. But the Bucs would answer quickly, as Freeman would find Jackson for a 27-yard completion thanks to shoddy tackling by the Falcons defense that put the ball in Falcon territory. Then more poor tackling got the better of the defense, with Doug Martin running 40 yards for a touchdown run. The Bucs went for two, but Freeman’s pass was overthrown, leaving them with a 22-10 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons would close out the third quarter with a three-and-out. Both teams would exchange quick drives to start the fourth quarter, neither really having success with moving the ball. The Falcons defense would force another three-and-out of the Bucs on their next possession, but on the critical third down stop, John Abraham would be injured with an apparent ankle injury. He would be carted into the locker room after being helped off the field. The Falcons next series started poorly, with Turner rushing for a 5-yard loss and then Ryan being sacked by DaQuan Bowers. But a defensive holding call on Ronde Barber gave the Falcons a first down. And thanks to an 18-yard pass to Jones, the Falcons were in Buccaneer territory. Two plays later, a 13-yard catch and run on the screen to Rodgers would get teh Falcons to the Bucs’ 8-yard line. Snelling would then carry for just a 1-yard gain on the next play. Ryan would sprint right but be late on a throw to Gonzalez in the endzone, which was too high. Then on 4th & goal from the 7, Ryan would spot and open Douglas along the sideline, who reached across the plane for the touchdown. The Falcons had now cut the lead to 22-17 with 7 minutes remaining in the game. The defense responded by putting the clamps on the Bucs offense, who moved the ball only 15 yards on six plays before punting. Ryan hooked up with Rodgers twice and Gonzalez on his first three pass to give the Falcons a new set of downs at their own 33-yard line on the ensuing drive. But his next four passes would all go incomplete and the Falcons would turn it over on downs with 2:02 to go. After the two-minute warning a 24-yard run by Doug Martin would put the ball inside the Falcons 5. Two more runs by Martin, and the game was over. The Falcons had lost 22-17.

All three of the Falcons losses this season came at the hands of NFC South rivals, as the team split with all three teams. Their 13-3 record marks the second best in team history, behind only the 1998 season where they won 14 regular season games. Ryan finished the year setting franchise records in all major passing categories, including completions (422), attempts (615), yards (4,719), touchdowns (32), and completion percentage (68.6%). Matt Bryant’s field goal lifts him over Jay Feely as the new franchise record holder for field goals made in a season with 33. He also is the team’s single season leader in points scored with 143. Matt Bosher’s 47.5 punting average is also the season-high for any Falcons punter in team history.

The Falcons will have a bye next week as the playoffs begin. As the NFC’s top seed, they will be hosted the lowest ranked seed in the second round of the playoffs two weeks from now.

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Aaron Freeman
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