The Falcons put a beatdown on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning 45-24, but went up 42 points in the first half before the Bucs finally got on the board. The Falcons finish the year 10-6 and will earn the fifth seed in NFC playoffs, and will be set to play the winner of tonight’s New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game in the opening round of the playoffs.
Matt Ryan led the way, going 6 of 9 for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns before getting pulled late in the second quarter. Ryan finishes the year with 4,177 yards, the most ever for a Falcons passer and also had 29 touchdowns, the third highest total and his own career high. Chris Redman subbed in and passed for 71 yards, while completing 7 of 12 pass attempts. He also had an interception. Michael Turner led rushers with 172 yards on 17 carries and 2 scores. He finishes the year with 1,340 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Jacquizz Rodgers added 8 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown and Jason Snelling had 9 carries for 50 yards. Julio Jones and Roddy White both had 4 catches for 76 and 69 yards, respectively. Jones scored twice. He finishes his rookie year with 959 yards, the most ever for a Falcons rookie. White becomes the first Falcon receiver to ever have two 100-catch seasons, as he finished the year with 100 catches on the nose for 1,296 yards. Tony Gonzalez only had one catch for 8 yards. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal attempt from 20 yards. Matt Bosher had 2 punts for an average of 50.5 yards. Eric Weems had a single punt return for 9 yards and no kickoff returns. The Falcons offense rolled over the Bucs, particularly in the first half where they converted 5 of 6 third down attempts and gained 319 total yards, including 186 on the ground.
On defense the Falcons stymied the Bucs offense in the first half, forcing three turnovers and only allowing 98 total yards. With their pedal off the gas after building a 35-point halftime lead the defense did allow 17 second half points and 177 passing yards. Curtis Lofton led the team with 14 tackles and an interception which he returned for a score. John Abraham (1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Kroy Biermann (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks); Thomas DeCoud (8 tackles, 1 pass defended); Dominique Franks (5 tackles, 1 interception); William Moore (6 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble); Chris Owens (5 tackles, 1 pass defended); Darrin Walls (1 interception); and Sean Weatherspoon (5 tackles) had noteworthy games. Lofton’s production pushes his tackle total to 147 for the year, a career high for him. Weatherspoon finishes the year 113, a career high for him as well. Abraham finishes the year with 9.5 sacks, for the team lead.
The Falcons began the game with a 26-yard run by Michael Turner on the opening play from scrimmage. Ryan would convert two more third downs with throws to Roddy White for 23 yards and Tony Gonzalez for 8 yards. Turner would then follow that up with 3 runs for 15 yards to put the ball at the Buccaneers 1-yard line. Rodgers would punch it in on the next play from the 1, to get his first career rushing touchdown to give the 7-0 lead after a 12-play drive that nearly consumed 7 minutes of clock. The Bucs followed up with a three-and-out thanks to Biermann and William Moore teaming up for a third down sack on Josh Freeman. The Falcons ensuing drive started at their own 47-yard line that was propelled by a 13-yard run by Mihael Turner on the fourth play. Three plays later Ryan found Julio Jones across the middle for a 17-yard scoring strike, where Jones beat three tackles to take a 14-0 lead with only 11:30 elapsed off the first quarter clock. The next play from the Bucs, Freeman was picked off on a deep throw down the sideline by Dominique Franks. The Falcons followed that up with a 48-yard pass to Jones where he fell down at the 13-yard line and got up and carried a defender in the endzone to get his second score of the game. On the fifth play of the next series, Freeman was stripped by John Abraham in the backfield, who was able to cover up the ball for the team’s second turnover of the afternoon. The Falcons got the ball back at the Bucs 30-yard line to close out the first quarter. Turner ran the ball six straight times on their next series to get the ball down to the 1-yard line. Then the Falcons decided to go for it on 4th down and Turner was able to punch it in to give the Falcons a 28-0 with 11:40 to go in the second quarter. On the third play on the Bucs next offensive series, Lofton snagged Freeman’s pass over the middle and rumbled untouched for 26 yards into the endzone to make the score 35-0 a minute later. On the Bucs next series, Moore was able to strip Kellen Winslow, but did not reestablish himself after going out of bounds before he recovered the ball. That gave the Bucs the ball back, but two plays later they would punt anyway. On the second play of the Falcons ensuing series, Turner would bust up the left side for an 81-yard touchdown run to take the lead to 42 points. On the first play of the next Bucs series, Preston Parker would make a 48-yard reception. Freeman would complete his next 3 passes to get the ball to the Falcons 7-yard line. He would be sacked by Abraham and lose the football and fall on top of it. But an offsides penalty on Abraham would negate the play. On the next play, LeGarrette Blount would lose 7 yards on a Freeman pass, but two plays later Freeman still found Dezmon Briscoe in the endzone for a 2-yard score. The Bucs would get on the board for the first time with 2:09 to go in the first half. Chris Redman would sub in for the Falcons and close out the first half.
In the second half, both teams swapped six play drives that ended in punts. On the Bucs second series, Freeman completed 5 of 6 passes for 70 yards, including a 31-yarder to Mike Williams. But Freeman would fumble at the Falcons 12-yard line, and the Bucs would have to settle for a 41-yard Connor Barth field goal. On the second play of the Falcons ensuing drive, an out throw to Roddy White from Redman was jumped by Elbert Mack for a pick six. The Bucs would convert on a two-point conversion to Kellen Winslow to cut the Falcons lead to 42-18. The Falcons got the ball back and had a four-and-out before giving it back to the Bucs. The next series by the Bucs would close out the third quarter and begin the fourth. Freeman completed 7 of 8 passes for 68 yards to get the ball to the Falcon 5-yard line. And then he hit Briscoe for another touchdown on the net play. They would miss their two-point conversion attempt on a pass to Briscoe, but a roughing the passer penalty on Biermann would give Tampa Bay another attempt. But Weatherspoon’s stop on Josh Freeman would keep the Falcons lead at 42-24. The Falcons continued to run the ball on their next series with Snelling contributing 33 yards on 3 carries, following up by 13 yards on 2 carries by Rodgers to get the ball to the 1-yard line. But on the next play, Rodgers was stripped trying to punch it in by Larry Asante giving the Bucs the ball back, and marking the Falcons second turnover of the game. The Bucs would go for it on 4th & 2 on their next drive at their own 10-yard line. They would miss the pass, but a high hit by Dunta Robinson on Preston Parker would begin a shoving match after the play that ultimately resulted in both Robinson and Donald Penn getting offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties. The Falcons would get the ball at the Bucs 10-yard line with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter after the fracas. But three Snelling runs could not punch the ball in and Matt Bryant trotted out to make his 20-yard attempt. With the Bucs moving the ball to midfield, Freeman attempt a deep pass to Josh Johnson, but Chris Owens dropped an interception when stepping in front of the pass. But on the next play, Thomas DeCoud tipped a pass to Darrin Walls for an interception which he returned 23 yards to the Bucs 32-yard line. The Falcons drive started with 1:39 left on the clock, and Redman kneeled three times to close out the game.
Next week the Falcons will go on the road to either Dallas or New York depending on the outcome of the Sunday Night contest between the Cowboys and Giants. The Falcons have not played either team since 2009, where the team went on the road to both stadiums and lost. The Cowboys beat them 37-21 while the Giants won in overtime 34-31. Prior to that loss, the Falcons won four straight at that stadium, including a 2009 win over the New York Jets. The Falcons have lost their last three road playoff games, with their last victory coming with a win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in 2003. The Falcons are winless in the playoffs under current head coach Mike Smith, going 0-2 since 2008. The Cowboys last home game in the playoffs came after 2009, but prior to that had lost six straight postseason contests, including two at home dating back to the ’96 season. The Giants lost their last playoff game, a home contest after the ’08 season to the Philadelphia Eagles. The previous year, they won three road games before beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.