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November 29, 2009 @ 2:20 pm
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Defense Improves, But Not Enough To Hold Off Falcons In 20-17 Loss

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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UPDATED: Tampa Bay's defense notched six sacks against Atlanta, but allowed Falcons backup QB Chris Redman to engineer a game-winning drive which ended with a fourth down TD pass to WR Roddy White. Atlanta improved to 6-5 while Tampa Bay fell to 1-10 despite two TDs from QB Josh Freeman.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris didn’t like what he saw from defensive coordinator Jim Bates, whose defense ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, 31st in the NFL in points allowed and 32nd in rushing defense, so he demoted the 63-year old play-caller on Monday. Morris said he didn’t see enough progress in his defense during the team’s 1-9 start.

There was plenty of defensive progress on display in Atlanta on Sunday, but not quite enough to earn a victory in a hard-fought 20-17 loss to the Falcons. The game came down to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Chris Redman to Roddy White on fourth-and-goal with 23 seconds left in the game.

Morris assumed the role of defensive coordinator this week and his vision of what Tampa Bay’s defense should like was much more appealing than Bates’. In fact, it was quite an eye-opener.

After failing to record a sack in the last two games, much less even applying pressure to the quarterback, Morris’ defense came alive in the first half, knocking quarterback Matt Ryan out of the game in the first quarter with a sprained big toe on one of Tampa Bay’s five sacks in the first half. The Bucs would finish with six sacks against the Falcons, matching their season-high against Green Bay.

The Bucs also held running back Michael Turner to 12 yards on 10 first-half carries before knocking him out of the game in the third quarter. He finished with only 33 yards on 12 carries. The Falcons rushed for only 75 yards on 26 carries (2.9 avg.), which was the fewest amount of rushing yards allowed all season by Tampa Bay and a testament to Morris’ play-calling and a change back to more of a one-gap, penetrating, Tampa 2 scheme.

Tampa Bay also forced a fumble in Atlanta after failing to record a turnover last week in a 31-7 loss to New Orleans. But with the game on the line and clinging to a 17-13 lead, the Bucs defense allowed Redman and the Falcons to march 59 yards in 15 plays in 2:07 to win the game.

Redman, who finished the game 23-of-41 for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Ryan, only connected on 5-of-13 passes for 59 yards on the Falcons’ final drive, but was aided by a costly penalty by first-year cornerback Derrick Roberson on third-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. Redman had missed his last three pass attempts and instead of it being a fourth-and-goal situation from the 10, the penalty gave Atlanta a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

However, the Bucs defense stiffened and forced three straight incompletions before Redman connected with White on a quick slant for the game-winning touchdown on fourth down. After the game, Morris didn’t make any excuses for Roberson’s inexperience and matching up against a Pro Bowler like White.

“It doesn’t matter. When it’s your turn to go out there, it’s your time to shine,” Morris said of Roberson, who was in the game due to a fourth quarter hip injury to nickel corner Torrie Cox and a hamstring strain to starting corner Aqib Talib. “You are a starter. It doesn’t matter who is in there. It doesn’t matter what the call is. The only thing that matters is the result. Nobody cares who the touchdown was caught on. Everybody just knows it was a touchdown. We have to stand up and make those plays.”

Prior to the game-winning drive, Morris elected to have kicker Connor Barth attempt a 51-yard field goal that would have increased Tampa Bay’s lead to 20-13 with 2:30 left in regulation, but the kick was wide right.

“On fourth down, we had the chance to put us up by seven so the only thing they can do is tie. We had just made a few big-time field goals [two weeks before] and we have a lot of confidence in our kicker to let him go out there and take a swing at it. We were a 1-9 football team. Now we’re a 1-10 football team. You can’t play scared. We have to go out there and try to play hard and win these football games.”

Morris also explained his decision to have punter Dirk Johnson attempt a fake punt on fourth-and-8 at the Atlanta 39-yard line. Johnson’s pass fell incomplete, but he was injured on the play. Although Tampa Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out on Atlanta’s next possession, the Falcons were able to gain some momentum.

“We were just trying to get our offense going and get some momentum,” Morris said. “We had the ball in their field position and I wanted to change the game, and I did. I changed it in their favor. That’s on me. That’s completely on me. That was a call by me. That was the call I made and it didn’t work out for us. Luckily our defense was able to stand up and get them off the field again.”

Tampa Bay’s special teams weren’t a complete disaster in Atlanta. Reserve safety Corey Lynch blocked a punt and recovered it at the Falcons’ 8-yard line. That led to Josh Freeman’s second touchdown pass of the day to give Tampa Bay a 17-10 lead. Right before halftime, Freeman hit Antonio Bryant, who finished the day with three catches for 91 yards, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 10-10.

Freeman bounced back from a four-turnover performance against New Orleans last week to complete 20-of-29 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a QB rating of 118.5. Yet he was disappointed that the offense could not do enough to take control of the contest in the fourth quarter to win the game. Tampa Bay was only able to rush for 73 yards on 26 carries (2.8 avg.) and committed eight penalties for 52 yards.

“We had a false start penalty and we have to find a way to close these things up a little earlier,” Freeman said. “[The defense] played a great game. Offensively, we weren’t putting up as many points as we feel like we need to win. Our defense kept us in the entire game. They did a great job today.”

Despite the fact that the Bucs got to Atlanta quarterbacks six times and held the Falcons to 297 yards, which was the second-lowest total yardage output this season (Washington gained only 277 yards on October 4, 2009), Morris didn’t believe the defense took a step forward on Sunday.

“It’s never a step forward when you lose,” Morris said.

“It was a disappointing loss and a hard-fought game by my football team. They played hard. We played hard as a team. We blocked a punt on special teams. We moved the ball on offense fairly well. We were able to get off the field on a couple key times on third down. In the second half, we didn’t play as well as we did in the first. We played very well as a team today and I’m just proud of those guys in that locker room. I’ve just got to do a better job of coaching this football team.”

Atlanta scored first, marching 53 yards for a Jason Elam field goal, but taking 15 plays to do so thank to a surprisingly stingy Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs sacked Redman twice on the drive, and held Turner to minus-1 yard on three carries. But a huge offsides penalty on linebacker Quincy Black on the Falcons’ punt on fourth-and-2 gave Atlanta a new set of downs at its own 44. On third-and-14, Michael Jenkins made a clutch catch that picked up 14 yards and gave Atlanta a first down at the Tampa Bay 21. On third-and-7 from the 18, Stylez White recorded his second sack of the game and forced the Falcons to kick a field goal. With 10:44 left in the second quarter, Elam’s 45-yard field goal gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead.

After a three-and-out by the Buccaneers offense, Tampa Bay’s defense gave up another score on Atlanta’s next possession. Jerious Norwood ripped off an 18-yard run that put the Falcons in Tampa Bay territory at the 35-yard line. On second-and-8 from the 32, Redman hit Jenkins with a 12-yard gain down to the 21. On second-and-11 from the 22, Redman caught Tampa Bay in a zone blitz from the left side and tossed a shovel pass to Norwood who took it 22 yards up the middle for a touchdown. With 6:31 left in the second quarter, Atlanta’s lead increased to 10-0.

Tampa Bay was quick to strike on its next series. Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson opened up the playbook and called for a couple deep pass plays. On first down, Freeman launched a 38-yard pass to Bryant off play action. On first-and-10 from the Atlanta 42, Freeman used play action again to connect with Bryant downfield, this time for a touchdown. Both plays came against cornerback Tye Hill. With 5:40 left before halftime, Atlanta’s lead was cut to 10-7.

The Bucs defense got a three-and-out on the next series and got the ball back for its offense. Freeman hit Stovall for an 8-yard gain, followed by a 21-yard pass to tight end Kellen Winslow down to the Atlanta 37. On second-and-14 at the Atlanta 41, Freeman found rookie Sammie Stroughter for an 11-yard gain. A 15-yard penalty on linebacker Curtis Lofton added 15 more yards and gave Tampa Bay a first-and-10 at the Falcons’ 15-yard line. However, the drive was marred by two false start penalties by offensive tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood and the Bucs had to settle for Barth’s 39-yard field goal. With 20 seconds left before halftime, the score was tied 10-10.

Tampa Bay’s next score would be set up by Lynch, who blocked Atlanta’s first punt in the third quarter and recovered the ball at the Atlanta 8-yard line. On second-and-goal, Freeman hit Cadillac Williams with an 8-yard touchdown pass with Lofton trailing in coverage. With 11:42 left in the third quarter, the Bucs led 17-10.

Turner kick-started the Falcons’ next drive with an 18-yard run out to the Atlanta 49 before leaving the game with an injury on his next carry, which went for three yards. Redman then hit Gonzalez and Jenkins for gains of eight and 18 yards, respectively. On second-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 24, Redman was sacked by blitzing cornerback Ronde Barber. On third-and-18 from the Bucs’ 30, Redman’s pass to Roddy White only picked up 11 yards. That set up a 37-yard Elam field goal. With 6:42 left in the third quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead was cut to 17-13.

The Bucs tried to fake a field goal early in the fourth quarter and lost punter Dirk Johnson to a leg injury on that play. Barth had to step in and kick on Tampa Bay’s next punting situation and drilled a 46-yarder that was returned 18 yards to the Buccaneers’ 40. On third-and-10, Redman hit Norwood with a 6-yard catch, and the Falcons went for the first down on fourth down, converting that with a 9-yard throw to Gonzalez. Redman went on to throw three straight incompletions to set up a 43-yard field goal attempt by Elam, which was no good.

After an eight-play, clock-chewing drive, Tampa Bay missed a field goal of its own as Barth failed to connect on a 51-yard attempt, which drifted right. The Falcons took possession of the ball at their own 41 with 2:30 left and marched downfield for the game-winning touchdown.

Defensive end Stylez G. White was a man on fire against Atlanta, notching 2.5 sacks of the team’s five first half sacks and also teaming with Tim Crowder to knock Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan out of the game in the first quarter on one of those sacks. Ryan left the game with a sprained big toe on his right foot.

White was absolutely destroying left tackle Sam Baker, who left the game early due to an elbow injury, and was his replacement, Will Svitek, throughout the game. He tied his career-high for sacks in a game, which was set at Houston on December 9, 2007. White is now tied with Jimmy Wilkerson for the team lead in sacks this year with 5.5. He also had five tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries against the Falcons.

The Bucs allowed the Falcons to drive 59 yards in 15 plays to score a game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left as backup QB Chris Redman connected with wide receiver Roddy White for a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 5. First-year cornerback Derrick Roberson had a key holding penalty on third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, and that gave Atlanta a first-and-goal from the 5.

Defending the end zone on four plays is one thing, but trying to do it on seven is another. Redman was incomplete on six of those passes, and highlighted how well Tampa Bay’s defense has progressed in its play, but his seventh pass was the game-winner.

Tampa Bay recorded its first sack in three games when Tim Crowder and Stylez G. White combined to drop Matt Ryan in the first quarter. That play knocked Ryan out of the game. Crowder finished with 1.5 sacks and has 2.5 QB captures on the season, while White finished with 2.5 and has a team-tying 5.5 sacks. Crowder also recovered a fumble in the third quarter. … Linebacker Quincy Black recorded his second career sack and second sack of the year when he dropped Chris Redman for a 1-yard loss near the end of the first quarter. … Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded a sack against Atlanta, his second of the season and the 25th of his illustrious career. Barber finished with five tackles and two tackles for loss. … With a 17-13 lead at Atlanta, Sunday marked the first time the Buccaneers had not trailed heading into the fourth quarter all season. … Kellen Winslow led the Bucs with seven catches for 81 yards on Sunday and is nine catches away from surpassing Jackie Harris for the most catches by a Tampa Bay tight end in a single season. Winslow has 54 on the year. Harris had 62 receptions in 1995. Winslow needs 222 yards over the next five games to surpass Jimmie Giles’ 786 yards in 1981, which was the most ever by a Tampa Bay tight end in a single season. … Connor Barth had made four straight field goals prior to his 51-yard miss in the fourth quarter. He also recorded his first career punt when subbing for Dirk Johnson in the fourth quarter, which was a 46-yarder. … Corey Lynch’s blocked punt marked the fifth block of the season for Tampa Bay. The Bucs have blocked two punts, two extra points and one field goal in 2009 under special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led Tampa Bay with 11 tackles and had one tackle for loss and one forced fumble. … The Bucs out-gained the Falcons 318-297, but converted only 3-of-12 on third downs (25 percent), while Atlanta converted 5-of-16 thirds (31 percent). However, the Falcons were 2-of-2 (100 percent) on fourth down.

The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:

WR Michael Clayton
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Kellen Winslow
WR Antonio Bryant
FB Chris Pressley
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh Freeman

RE Stylez G. White
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
LE Jimmy Wilkerson
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sabby Piscitelli

Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:

QB Rudy Carpenter (emergency QB)
WR Brian Clark
WR Terrence Nunn
WR Yamon Figurs
G Shawn Murphy
OT James Lee
DT Dre Moore
DE Kyle Moore

Wide receiver Michael Clayton suffered a left knee injury while blocking on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play. He was replaced in the lineup by Maurice Stovall for the rest of the game. Defensive tackle Roy Miller was shaken up with 8:32 left in the second quarter, but returned to the game. Punter Dirk Johnson was injured on a fake punt attempt with just under 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Johnson was replaced by kicker Connor Barth. Cornerback Torrie Cox injured his hip in the fourth quarter and did not return. Aqib Talib injured his hamstring late in the fourth quarter and was not in on the final series. Cox and Talib were replaced in the lineup by cornerback Derrick Roberson.

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Falcons game at the Georgia Dome was 67,029. The kickoff temperature was 61 degrees in the domed stadium.

The Buccaneers (1-10) will travel to Carolina to play the Panthers (4-7) at Bank of America Stadium on December 6. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.

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