By Max Luckan
In their most important game of the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came up just short against the Atlanta Falcons, who pushed their record to 10-1. Meanwhile, the Bucs made the path to the playoffs a little more difficult for themselves, dropping to 6-5. In what was a close game the whole way, the Falcons scored a late touchdown to regain the lead 24-23, and the Bucs only had eight seconds to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Obviously, that didn’t happen, the score stood, and the Bucs suffered a disappointing loss. However, the offense played well, but the defense was unable to stop the Falcons’ offense for much of the game.
Overall, the coaching staff did a good job in prepping the Bucs for this tough matchup against the Falcons, but some questionable decisions were evident on Sunday. For one, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw five interceptions last week against the Arizona Cardinals because he was pressured most of the game. However, Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan failed to call enough blitzes to put Ryan under constant pressure.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, coach Greg Schiano let about 30 seconds tick off the clock instead of calling a timeout, which would have given the Bucs more time for their comeback. Instead, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant missed a field goal and the Bucs only had eight seconds. This week, the preparation was solid, but the in-game execution was just average. Grade: B-
The offense got going a little earlier this week than it did against the Carolina Panthers, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. Quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 256 yards, but didn’t throw for any touchdowns, which likely cost the Bucs the game. They had multiple opportunities to score touchdowns, but had to settle for field goals instead.
Running back Doug Martin was only able to muster up 50 rushing yards against a poor Falcons’ run defense, but did score the only two touchdowns for the Bucs. Another positive would be the turnovers, of which the Bucs had none, but a few foolish penalties negated that. Putting up 23 points against a team as tough as the Falcons isn’t ideal, but the opportunities for more were there. A few big plays were converted, but they didn’t really amount to anything. Grade: B-
Even though the Bucs are ranked first in the NFL in stopping the run, they had little success against the Falcons’ running game on Sunday. The defense was able to hold Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner to a combined 66 yards on the ground, but allowed two rushing touchdowns. And the secondary was torched again.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and one touchdown with one interception, and was able to complete a staggering 81.3 percent of his passes. Yes, the Bucs were without starting CB Eric Wright, but allowing three receivers to rack up over 50 yards receiving isn’t going to produce ideal results. The inability to slow down Atlanta’s passing game led to a tired defense and a loss of valuable time on the clock. The exception to an otherwise dreadful performance would be the two turnovers caused by the Bucs’ defense. Grade: C-
Bucs kicker Connor Barth was able to drill 3-4 field goals on Sunday, but missed a crucial 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Bucs the lead. However, Barth did his job for the most part and kept the Bucs in the game. Barth has been one of the more consistent kickers in the NFL this year and has really helped the Bucs in close games, but couldn’t quite seal the deal against Atlanta.
The Falcons clearly won the field position battle, which contributed to some extended drives that led to points. The Bucs allowed long kickoff returns, one of which immediately led to more points for the Falcons. There weren’t any major mistakes made on special teams, just some inconsistencies, but overall, the play of the special teams unit didn’t affect the final outcome. Grade: B
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.