The Falcons may not quite have a firm hold of the title of best team in the NFC, but they are currently reigning supreme in the NFC South, after a 27-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moves the team’s record to 6-2.
Matt Ryan led the team, completing 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards with a touchdown. Michael Turner added 107 yards on the ground on 24 carries with two touchdowns of his own. Tony Gonzalez led receivers with 8 catches for 72 yards. Jason Snelling added 5 grabs for 24 yards. Roddy White was limited to 4 catches on 49 yards, partially because he missed much of the second quarter due to a knee injury. Michael Palmer caught the lone Ryan touchdown strike, the first of his career. He finished the day with 2 catches for 11 yards.
The Falcons offense got off to a strong start, moving the ball on their first three drives and ending up with two touchdowns and a field goal to hold a 17-14 halftime lead. The came out in the third quarter and scored on both of their offensive possessions, which with defensive help was enough to hold off the Bucs. They had two offensive possessions that had favorable field position in the fourth quarter to try and put the Bucs away, but were unsuccessful. The first came on a botched onside kick recovery by the Bucs where the Falcons got the ball at their opponent’s 39 yard-line. But three plays later they punted in back to Tampa Bay. The Bucs turned it over on their ensuing drive, with the Falcons getting the ball on Tampa’s 49-yard line, but again the Falcons were forced to punt. A long drive ensued for the Bucs, starting at their own 9 yard line. But a defensive stand on 4th and goal from the Falcons 2-yard line turned the ball over to the Falcons with 2:37 left in the game. And the Falcons were able to run out the clock to seal the win.
Defensively, the two forced turnovers were pivotal to the Falcons success. Stephen Nicholas, replacing an injured Sean Weatherspoon, led defenders with 8 tackles. Jonathan Babineaux (1 tackle, 1 interception), Kroy Biermann (2 tackles), Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles), Brent Grimes (5 tackles, 1 interception), Curtis Lofton (5 tackles), William Moore (3 tackles), Corey Peters (3 tackles), and Mike Peterson (5 tackles, 1 sack) had noteworthy games. On a pressure from Biermann, Babineaux picked off a duck from Josh Freeman. It would lead to the Palmer touchdown, the team’s lone touchdown score of the second half.
Matt Bryant hit on his two field goal attempts of 31 and 41-yards. Michael Koenen had 3 punts for an average of 32 yards with 2 being placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems did not return a punt, but did add 70 yards on 3 kickoffs.
The Falcons will have to quickly come down off this big win as they will host the Baltimore Ravens on a short week this Thursday night. This will mark on the fourth time that these two teams have squared off. The Ravens lead the all-time series 2-1, with their most recent victory coming 24-10 in 2006. The Falcons lone win came in 2002 at home. The Falcons lost an overtime game against the Ravens in their first meeting in 1999. The Falcons have a 2-3 record all-time on Thursdays, their most recent game being a loss to the Colts in 2007. The Ravens are 0-2 all-time on Thursdays, their most recent matchup being a loss to the Bengals in 2006.