In the NFL, there are only 16 games in a regular season, so whenever a team goes out to play a game every Sunday or Monday or Thursday or even Saturday, they want to win.
The Falcons knew where they stood before they played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC which means home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
However, Mike Smith played all his starters the entire game because they wanted to get their 14th win of the season. That did not happen as the Bucs made a couple more plays than the Falcons which led to a 22-17 win for Tampa.
“I don’t think we ever got into a rhythm,” Smith said. “We kept ending up with third-and-ones, fourth-and-ones and fourth-and halves. We didn’t play to our standards.”
Tony Gonzalez echoed the same sediments.
“They came out and played well,” he said. “We have to give them their credit. They showed up and played today, and we failed to meet their intensity.”
Gonzalez also added that this game meant nothing in the long run and they will learn from it when they are back on the field in two weeks.
“Before this game was played, we were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, at the end of the game, nothing has changed,” Gonzalez added. “We’re a very good football team; we’ll just use this a wakeup call.”
The Bucs were able to jump to a 16-3 lead in the third quarter and never let up. Michael Turner did score a 17-yard touchdown with 3:45 left in the third, but the Bucs answered right back when Doug Martin scored on a 40-yard run on the ensuing drive to make it 22-10.
With 7:02 left in the fourth, Matt Ryan threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas to cut the Bucs lead to six. That was Ryan’s 32nd touchdown pass of the season, which set a new franchise record.
After forcing the Bucs to punt on the next series, the Falcons had a shot to take the lead. But on fourth-and-10 at the Falcons 33-yard line, Ryan threw pass to Tony Gonzalez, but the play was broken up by Mark Barron and the Bucs ran out the clock to secure the win.
Hoever, as much as the Falcons wanted to win this game, they knew that a win could not help their playoff chances. So was there any consideration about taking the starters out?
“Absolutely not,” Smith added. “We’ve said from the very beginning that we’re going out to play this game to win. We just didn’t get it done today.”
Another thing that they did not get done is getting players out of there healthy. “Dunta Robinson went down with a head injury early in the first quarter and John Abraham was carted off the field in the fourth quarter when he went down with an ankle injury.
However, Abraham is expected to be ready to go for the playoffs.
“The early reports are that it’s minor,” Smith said. “We’re not overly concerned”
As for Robinson, Smith said he suffered a concussion, but he’ll have more information on Monday.
So with the regular season over, the Falcons now have to get ready for the second season which has not been too kind to the team since 2008, recording an 0-3 record during that span. And despite the Falcons finishing with the best record in the NFC, they know the five other teams in the conference that made it to the post season starts with the same record.
“Everybody is 0-0,” Smith said. We’re very excited about that as a football team. “We’ll watch the tape and learn from it just like we always do and start preparation for Falcons-on-Falcons during our bye week.”
The Falcons will host their first playoff game of the post season on Sunday Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. They will either go up against the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins or the Seattle Seahawks.