The Falcons extend their record to 10-1 with a 24-23 win over division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road. It was another nail-biter that potentially came down to the final play, as the Bucs had a chance to win with a hail mary as time expired.
Matt Ryan started off strong, as he completed his first 10 passes. He finished the game completing 26 of 32 passes for 353 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Jacquizz Rodgers led rushers with 49 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Michael Turner also scored a touchdown, adding 17 yards on 13 carries. In the air, Julio Jones had a strong game despite still recovering from an ankle injury. He led receivers with 6 catches for a career-high 147 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez (5 catches, 62 yards), Roddy White (5 catches, 57 yards), Jason Snelling (3 catches, 33 yards), and Rodgers (2 catches, 30 yards) also made big contributions on the day. Matt Bryant hit on only 1 of 3 field goal attempts. He connected on a 31-yarder, but missed from 22 and 48 yards. Matt Bosher punted only once for 45 yards, placing it inside the 20-yard line. Rodgers had 2 kickoff returns for an average of 36.5 yards, while Dominique Franks had a single punt return for 10 yards.
Defensively, the Falcons run defense stepped up big and bottled up Doug Martin. He and the Bucs team was held to just 50 yards on the ground. They did give up 326 total yards and allowed 4 of 10 third down conversions. Stephen Nicholas led the unit with 7 tackles. Jonathan Babineaux (2 tackles); Kroy Biermann (2 tackles, 1 sack); Akeem Dent (4 tackles); William Moore (6 tackles); Dunta Robinson (6 tackles, 1 sack); and Sean Weatherspoon (6 tackles) had noteworthy games.
The Falcons began the game hoping to establish the run. Michael Turner took the first two plays from scrimmage for a combined 6 yards. Then Ryan dropped back to pass on 3rd & 4 and found Julio Jones for a 13-yard completion. The Falcons made the switch to Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, and he toted the rock for the next three plays, combining for 32 yards, including a 20-yard run. Turner took over again, catching a Ryan pass for 8 yards, followed by an 8-yard run on a draw play to get the ball to the Bucs 18-yard line. But three plays later, Ryan attempted a shovel pass to Rodgers, which was swallowed up by Mason Foster at the 13-yard line. Bryant came out on the field for a 31-yard field goal attempt to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead. The Bucs followed up with an impressive offensive drive of their own. Freeman combined to complete 4 of 4 passes for 56 yards. Martin found initial success on the ground, combining for 6 carries and 25 yards on the 10-play drive. He capped off the drive with a 1-yard run for six points. The Bucs took a 7-3 lead with just over a minute left in the first quarter. To start the second quarter, Ryan found Gonzalez over the middle on 3rd & 3 for a 20-yard gain. He hit Jones on the ensuing play on a slant for 15 yards. But then the handoff to Turner was gobbled up for a 3-yard loss on the next play. Two plays later, Ryan connected once more with Gonzalez for a 13-yard gain on third down. Rodgers’ rush on the next play was stuffed for a 4-yard loss due to Gerald McCoy’s penetration. On the next play, with pressure Ryan was forced to scramble for 13 yards, getting a good block by Rodgers to set up a 3rd & 1 at the Bucs 5-yard line. Rodgers then took the pitch outside on the play to get the 5-yard rushing touchdown to put the Falcons back up 3 points. On the second play of the Bucs next drive, Dunta RObinson burst off the edge to get a sack on a corner blitz. On the next play, Stephen Nicholas missed a stop on a quick dump-off to Martin, after which Martin rumbled for a 42-yard gain. But a pair of blocking penalties (holding and illegal use of hands) negated the gain. Two plays later, Freeman would be sacked by Kroy Biermann as he stepped up in the pocket to force a Michael Koenen punt. On the third play of the ensuing Falcons drive, Ryan’s pass to White was picked off by Ronde Barber who returned it 28 yards to the Falcons 31-yard line. On the first play of the Bucs drive, Freeman threw a screen pass to Mike Williams, who then threw a 28-yard strike to Vincent Jackson to get the ball down to the Falcons 3-yard line. The defense made a good goalline stand however, thanks to a third down stuff by Mike Peterson on Martin. Connor Barth then hit a 22-yard field goal to tie the game with less than 4 minutes remaining in the first half. The Falcons offense got things going with their two-minute drill. Ryan hit Jason Snelling on two passes for a combined 24 yards on the opening plays of the drive. Two plays later, Turner runs for a 9-yard gain as the clock hit the two-minute warning. On 3rd & 1, Ryan hits White on a quick slant, which White breaks for a 29-yard gain to put the ball at Tampa’s 18-yard line. Ryan took a deep shot to Jones in the endzone to try and score, but Jones was called for offensive pass interference on a push-off against the defender putting the Falcons back at Tampa’s 28-yard line. A screen to Snelling gets 9 yards back, as the Falcons took their first timeout with 22 seconds remaining. Jones redeemed himself on the next play, getting yards after the catch on a 15-yard gain on 3rd & 11 to set up the Falcons at the 4 yard line with 15 seconds left in the half. Ryan again goes to Jones on a fade pass, but Jones can’t get his second foot down in bounds to make the scoring play. On the next play, pressure gets to Ryan and he’s forced to throw it away rather than take a sack. With 4 seconds left on the clock, Bryant came on the field for what should have been an easy 22-yard attempt to give the Falcons a 3-point lead at the half. But Bryant’s kicked was shanked wide left and the half ends with a tie score, 10-10.
To start the second half, Jonathan Babineaux made a nice stop in the backfield on Martin for a 3-yard loss. Two plays later, Tiquan Underwood makes a 7-yard grab to convert on 3rd & 5. Dallas Clark would convert another third down a few plays later. At midfield on the ninth play of the drive, Freeman would hit Vincent Jackson on a 31-yard leaping sideline grab on 3rd & 10 to get the ball to the Falcons 24-yard line. Freeman overthrows Underwood in the endzone on the next play. Under pressure on the next play, Freeman misses on a jump ball to Jackson in the back of the endzone, but Robinson was there to force the incompletion. On 3rd & 10, Asante Samuel bites on the underneath throw leaving Mike Williams open in the endzone, but Freeman misses to force another Buccaneer field goal. Barth connects from 42 yards to give the Bucs a 13-10 lead to start the half. The Falcons respond in a big way, as Ryan hits Jones on an 80-yard bomb to take a 17-13 lead on a one-play drive that lasts 11 seconds. Freeman tries to take a deep shot of his own on the opening play of the next drive, but underthrows it due to pressure. But Samuel drops the easy interception. On third down two plays later, Robert McClain makes a good stop on 3rd & 6 to tackle Underwood inches shy of the first down. The Bucs then punt. But the Falcons follow up the good defensive stand with a three-and-out on offense and punt the ball back to the Bucs. With 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Bucs take over. A false start and illegal use of hands penalty back them up to their own 7-yard line at the outset of the drive. But Underwood beats Weatherspoon over the middle for a 39-yard gain to put the ball near midfield. Dunta Robinson makes a nice stop on a 1-yard loss to Martin, but comes off the field after delivering a big hit with the crown of his helmet, fearing a concussion. Two plays later, Martin bursts up the middle for a 7-yard gain after making Babineaux miss in the backfield. The Bucs enter the redzone with a 12-yard pass to Jackson. Freeman takes a shot to Mike Williams in the back of the endzone on a jump ball, which bounces off his hands. But the Falcons other corner, Asante Samuel was injured on the play, re-aggravating the shoulder injury that has limited him the past two games. On the final play of the third quarter, Marting oes up the middle for a 10-yard gain to put the ball at the 1-yard line. The first play of the fourth was a 1-yard run up the middle for a touchdown. And the Bucs take a 20-17 lead. The Falcons continued to struggle to find rushing room on the first play, as Turner was stuffed for a 2-yard loss to start the next drive. But Ryan hits Gonzalez for another third down conversion, this time for 12 yards. Turner was stuffed once more two plays later on 2nd & 1, following a Jones catch. On 3rd & 1, E.J. Biggers blitzes off the corner and catches Ryan unaware on a blindside hit to get the sack and force the fumble, which Gerald McCoy falls on. The Bucs now take over at the Falcons 36-yard line. But the defense holds, thanks to a drop by Underwood on third down. Barth connects on a 48-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 6-point margin with 10:28 left in the game. Rodgers gets a big play on special teams to start the next drive, gaining 43 yards on the kickoff return. The next play, Rodgers strikes again with a 32-yard gain on a quick throw into the flat by Ryan, breaking a couple of tackles. Ryan would hit White and Jones on a pair of comeback routes to gain 22 yards to put the ball at the Bucs’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, while rolling left, Ryan looked for Jones in the endzone. Ryan’s throw was behind Jones and it slips through the receivers’ hands to fall incomplete. On third down, the receivers are all covered, and Ryan throws it away. But Bucs safety Ahmad Black was called for defensive holding on Harry Douglas giving the Falcons a first down at the 3. On the next play, Turner takes the pitch left and goes untouched for a 3-yard score. The Falcons now take a 24-23 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the game. On the second play of the ensuing Bucs drive, Mike Williams jukes McClain for a 14-yard gain to get the first down. But McClain comes back two plays later to break up a pass to Underwood. Dallas Clark then beats Stephen Nicholas on 3rd & 9 for a 22-yard gain. On their next third down attempt from the Falcons 38-yard line, Freeman’s pass to Underwood was overthrown and nearly picked off again by Samuel. But he can’t make the diving grab for the interception. That forces Barth to attempt a 56-yard field goal to take a lead, but his kick was wide right. The Falcons take over at their own 46-yard line with 3:32 left in the game. Rodgers takes a handoff left for 12 yards on first down. He’s followed by a 4-yard run by Turner on an off-tackle as the two-minute warning hits. The Bucs let several seconds bleed off the clock to get down to the 2-minute mark without taking their first of 3 timeouts. After a Rodgers 1-yard run, they take their first timeout. But then Ryan hits White on a quick slant for an 8-yard gain on 3rd down to convert. The Bucs take their final two timeouts on the ensuing plays. But a second straight loss of yards by Turner results in a 3rd & 18 at the Bucs 37-yard line with a minute to go. Ryan hits Gonzo for a quick throw over the middle for 7 yards to try and set up a makeable field goal for Bryant. Bryant pushes his 48-yard kick wide right. With 8 seconds left on the clock, the Bucs are still alive at their own 38-yard line. Freeman hits Clark for a quick sideline throw for 9 yards to set up a hail mary. Freeman rolls left and heaves it to the endzone on the final play, but it’s broken up by William Moore and Samuel to end the game. The Falcons squeak by for the 24-23 victory.
The Falcons next game is a Thursday Night battle against the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons hope to avenge their lone loss of the season two weeks ago against the Saints by a score of 31-27. The Falcons will host the Saints, having lost three straight home games. Their last defeat of the Saints in the Georgia Dome came in 2008. Collectively, Mike Smith sports a 2-7 record against the Saints since taking over the Falcons in 2008. Seven of those nine games have come down to a final score decided by 8 points or less. The Falcons have won both of their Thursday games under Smith, both coming at home. They defeated the Jacksonville Jagaurs 41-14 last season. The Saints are 2-3 on Thursday games in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees Era. Thrice they have opened the season on Thursday night, including a 42-34 loss to Green Bay last season. They are 1-3 since 2006 on the road on Thursday night, their lone win coming over the Dallas Cowboys on a Thanksgiving day game in 2010.