Falcons fight off Bucs

Jimmy Cribb/atlantafalcons.com

The Falcons know they always have their hands full when they face a NFC South opponent. It was no different on Sunday when they took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. There were seven lead changes, but the Falcons were able to hold off the Bucs 24-23.

The Falcons jumped to a 3-0 lead in the opening series when Matt Bryant kicked a 31-yard field goal. The Bucs responded on the ensuing drive as Doug Martin scored on a 1-yard run.

At the start of the second quarter, the Falcons would put together 10-play, 75-yard drive which ended with a Jacquizz Rodgers 5-yard touchdown run to regain the lead. The Bucs would tie the game late in the second quarter when Connor Barth kicked a 22-yard field goal, which was set up due to a Ronde Barber interception on Matt Ryan.

The Falcons had a chance to take the lead going into halftime, but Matt Bryant missed a 29-yard field goal with four seconds left in the second quarter.

That gave the Bucs an opportunity to take the lead at the start of the third quarter, and they did just that as Barth kicked a 42-yard field goal.

Ryan was not going to let that stand for long, because on the first play of the Falcons opening series of the third quarter, he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones to take back the lead.

Later in the quarter, the Bucs would put together a 9-play, 82-yard drive and that ended with a Martin 1-yard score. The most notable play in that series was when Josh Freeman threw a 39-yard pass to Tiquan Underwood, which set up the Martin TD run.

The Bucs increased their lead to six early in the fourth quarter when Barth nailed a 48-yard field goal. That was possible because the Bucs forced another turnover on the previous series when E.J. Biggers sacked Ryan, forced the fumble and it was recovered by Gerald McCoy.

But Ryan would bounce back again as he led the offense to a 6-play, 64-yard drive which ended with a Michael Turner 3-yard touchdown run to take the lead for the final time.

Bucs had one last shot to take the lead and possibly win the game, on the responding drive when they got to the Falcons 38-yard line. But Barth missed a 56-yard field goal and the Falcons ran out enough clock to not let Tampa back in the game.

After a five-interception performance from Ryan, he bounced back, throwing for 353 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Jones led all receivers with 147 yards on six receptions and one touchdown, and Rodgers had 79 total yards to go along with his touchdown run.

But the story of the game had to be the play of the defense that bottled up Martin and the rest of the high-powered Tampa offense. Despite having two rushing touchdowns, Martin only had 50 rush yards on 21 carries. They also did not let Freeman go wild, which was another concern for the Falcons. Freeman ended his afternoon with 256 passing yards but had zero touchdowns.

The defense got a boost in the game when they got Sean Weatherspoon back in the lineup after missing the last four games. Weatherspoon and Dunta Robinson had six tackles, and Robinson even had a sack on Freeman early in the contest. Stephen Nicholas led all tacklers with seven and Kroy Biermann also had a sack in the win.

With the win, the Falcons improve to 10-1 and now have a four game lead in the NFC South with five games remaining. They will look to improve their record to 11-1 on Thursday when they come back home to face the New Orleans Saints

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