TAMPA – Instead of a third-straight win to end the season, the Buccaneers finished 2009 with a 3-13 record and will have to settle for the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft as the consolation prize to a dismal campaign.
After an impressive, two-game road-winning streak, Tampa Bay returned home to try to end the season on a high note by beating Atlanta, but the Falcons had the motivation of trying to record back-to-back winning years for the first time in franchise history and prevailed, 20-10.
The Bucs had plenty of motivation to try to save the job of rookie head coach Raheem Morris, which may be in jeopardy along with that of first-year general manager Mark Dominik, as the Glazers have reportedly met with former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher about his interest in coaching in Tampa Bay. However, the Falcons defense and running game proved to be too much for the Buccaneers to overcome.
The Bucs tallied 52 yards at halftime and mustered only three points in the first three quarters, finishing the game with just 206 yards of offense. Cadillac Williams was held in check as he rushed for 40 yards on 19 carries.
“They won the battle up front today and they won the battle on both sides of the football,” Morris said. “We weren’t able to run the football and we weren’t able to stop it. We have to tackle better.”
Despite not having starting running back Michael Turner available on Sunday, the Falcons still amassed 397 total yards, including 183 yards rushing on 37 attempts. Jason Snelling had a career-high 147 yards on 25 carries (5.9 avg.) while quarterback Matt Ryan completed 23-of-35 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Tampa Bay’s defense was on the field for 73 snaps due to the ineffectiveness of the offense and two turnovers.
“I don’t want to ever say they wore down without looking at the tape, but obviously you’ve got to say something like that happened,” Morris said. “They had the ability to cap off that [long] drive by running the football. You have to give their coach some credit as well. I don’t want to say that Snelling just wore down the defense and I don’t want to say that our players wore down. You just have to give [the Falcons’ coaching staff] some credit for getting those guys in good run fits, getting those guys in good run plays, and giving them another chance to have some success. We missed a few tackles individually, and you have to make those. [Snelling] was able to wear us down and they won the battle up front.”
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman struggled to find any rhythm against the Falcons, completing 16-of-32 passes for 174 yards with one touchdown and two fourth quarter interceptions that hampered the chances of Tampa Bay coming back to win.
The loss by Tampa Bay, especially with the offense and defense playing less than stellar football, puts Morris’ future as the Buccaneers coach in doubt. After the game, Morris was asked if he had received a vote of confidence from the team’s ownership group about him staying on in 2010.
“No, that’s not their job,” Morris said. “I tell you everyday you guys don’t get a vote of confidence either. You can get fired tomorrow too, but nobody’s asked me that question. I stand here and coach until I go. My mom and my pops were both laid off when I was 13 years old and nobody told them that they weren’t going to get fired. That’s just the reality of the world we live in. You deal with it. You do your job. This game is not for everybody. If I’m sitting around worried about getting fired then I’ve got my own issues. I’m not. I’m very confident in what I do.”
Neither the Glazers nor Dominik were available after the game for comment. The notoriously secret Glazers waited three weeks to fire Jon Gruden last year and didn’t speak publicly on their decision until January 16. However, one has to believe that the fate of Morris and Dominik will be known sooner rather than later, especially with Cowher in the mix.
Things got started off on the right foot for Tampa Bay. Free safety Tanard Jackson forced a fumble on the opening kickoff when he drilled Falcons return man Eric Weems. Kareem Huggins recovered the ball for the Buccaneers at the Atlanta 28-yard line. However, the Bucs lost two yards on the drive and had to settle for a 48-yard field goal from Connor Barth. With 13:27 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead.
The Falcons tied the game in the second quarter after moving 53 yards in eight plays. The big play on the drive was a defensive holding call on cornerback Ronde Barber, who intercepted Ryan on third-and-3 off a flea flicker pass. Televised replays showed that the call was rather dubious, but nonetheless it kept the drive moving. The drive stalled on the Tampa Bay 18 after the Falcons could not pick up the necessary two yards on two downs. Former Bucs kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 36-yard field goal for the Falcons with 4:09 left in the second quarter to knot the game at 3-3.
Atlanta took the lead in dramatic fashion on its last possession before halftime. The Falcons marched 53 yards in eight plays. Ryan was 5-of-5 for 52 yards on the drive. Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli was victimized twice on the drive. On first-and-10 from the Tampa Bay 12, Piscitelli was flagged for pass interference on tight end Tony Gonzalez. That set up the Falcons with a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line. After two runs lost one yard, Ryan threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Justin Peele as time expired in the first half. Piscitelli was lost in coverage and Peele was open just inside the goal line on the right side of the field for the score.
After backup safety Corey Lynch blocked Bryant’s 40-yard field goal attempt at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bucs drove 70 yards in 11 plays to tie the game. The drive started with an 11-yard reception from tight end Kellen Winslow and a 14-yard catch by Jerramy Stevens. Williams ripped off two runs for eight yards before catching a 6-yard pass to move the chains on third-and-2 from the Atlanta 39. On second-and-8 from the 33, Freeman hit Maurice Stovall with a 27-yard pass down to the Atlanta 4. After a loss of four yards on first down when Freeman tripped after the snap, he zipped a pass to Bryant, who had cornerback Christopher Owens draped all over him in the right back corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the Atlanta 8. With 11:34 left in the fourth quarter, the score was tied 10-10.
On third-and-2 from the Atlanta 38, Ryan’s pass to Gonzalez was picked off by Piscitelli at the Falcons’ 43. During the play, cornerback Aqib Talib was flagged for unnecessary roughness, which moved the ball back to the Tampa Bay 45. On the next play, Freeman’s pass was intercepted by Owens at the Atlanta 43. The ball was returned to the Tampa Bay 44.
The Falcons would make the Buccaneers pay for that turnover as they marched 44 yards in five plays to reclaim the lead. Snelling ran the ball four straight times for 32 yards, including a 22-yarder down to the Tampa Bay 16. On third-and-6 from the 12, Ryan found White for a 12-yard touchdown pass as Talib was inches away of deflecting the ball. With 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons led the Bucs 17-10.
Tampa Bay drove 45 yards down to the Atlanta 35 yard after passes to Williams, Winslow and Gilmore picked up a combined 34 yards. However on first-and-10, Freeman’s pass to Bryant in the end zone was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes. That play ignited a nine-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in a 36-yard field goal from Bryant. With 1:00 left in regulation, the Falcons led 20-10. Snelling rushed for 52 yards on seven straight carries on the final drive to get into field goal position as Tampa Bay’s defense wore down.PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME
There were not many shining stars for Tampa Bay in its 20-10 loss to Atlanta, but free safety Tanard Jackson had a fine game, notching five tackles, two passes defensed, an interception and a forced fumble on the opening kickoff. The interception was Jackson’s fifth of the year, which is a career high and ties Aqib Talib for the team lead. Jackson’s interception in the third quarter stymied an Atlanta drive and his forced fumble led to the Bucs’ opening field goal.
“It was a huge play in the game to try and get some momentum swung in our direction to open up the second half,” Jackson said. “I was just trying to make a play and help this team get its fourth victory and end the season strong. Obviously it didn’t happen. I think our guys played hard. It’s tough to go down this way but we can’t carry this into the offseason. We have a lot to look forward to.”
For his efforts, Jackson is this week’s PewterReport.com Player of the Game.IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Tampa Bay was trailing Atlanta 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter when rookie quarterback Josh Freeman had the Bucs on the march. Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Bucs moved the ball down to the Atlanta 35-yard line before Freeman threw an interception to cornerback Brent Grimes, who had blanketed Antonio Bryant in the end zone. Instead of tying the score at 17-17, the Bucs turned the ball over to the Falcons with 4:24 left in regulation and that ended all hope of a comeback – especially when Matt Bryant drilled a 36-yard field goal to put Atlanta up by 10 points with 1:00 left in regulation.STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes recorded his third career sack when he dropped Matt Ryan in the second quarter. Hayes has now notched a sack in three straight games. … Kicker Connor Barth made his sixth field goal in a row when he banged in a 48-yarder to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. … Safety Corey Lynch blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Matt Ryan. The block was Tampa Bay’s sixth this year (two field goals, two punts and two extra points), which was the second-most in team history, and Lynch’s second. Lynch also blocked a punt at Atlanta earlier in the season. … Josh Freeman set a Bucs rookie record with his 10th touchdown pass of the season when he hit Antonio Bryant in the end zone to tie the score at 10-10 in the fourth quarter. Bruce Gradkowski held the previous record of nine touchdown passes in 2006. … Running back Cadillac Williams finished the season with 1,040 all-purpose yards, including a team-high 821 yards rushing – the most since his rookie season – after coming back from two season-ending knee injuries. Williams, who played in all 16 games in a season for the first time in his career, scored four rushing touchdowns and had a career-high three receiving scores. … Tampa Bay set a new franchise record for the most kickoff return yards in team history with 1,623 yards on 62 kickoff returns. The previous record was 1,622 yards and was set in 1985. The Bucs’ 26.2-yard average was also the best in team history, surpassing the 24.8-yard average set in 2008. … Cornerback Ronde Barber has now passed left tackle Paul Gruber for the second-most starts in team history. Gruber and Barber were tied with 183 starts coming into today’s game before Barber taking the lead. Derrick Brooks has the most starts in team history with 221. … Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli recorded his second interception of the year and the fourth of his career on Sunday. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led all tacklers with 17 stops on Sunday. Ruud finished the season with a career-high 202 tackles. … Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes finished the Falcons game with 12 tackles, which gives him a career-high 134 tackles to finish the season. … Shawn Murphy saw action in his first NFL game on Sunday when he replaced Jeremy Zuttah at left guard. SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Maurice Stovall
LT Donald Penn
LG Jeremy Zuttah
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Jerramy Stevens
WR Antonio Bryant
FB Earnest Graham
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
RE Stylez G. White
DT Ryan Sims
DT Chris Hovan
LE Tim Crowder
WLB Matt McCoy
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Sabby PiscitelliMISSING IN ACTION
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter (emergency QB)
RB Derrick Ward
WR Mario Urrutia
WR Terrence Nunn
WR Mark Bradley
TE Ryan Purvis
OT James Lee
DE Michael Bennett
S De’von HallBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Cornerback Derrick Roberson suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return. Left tackle Donald Penn injured his left knee with 5:22 left in the game. He did not return to the game and was replaced by left guard Jeremy Zuttah. Shawn Murphy came in for Zuttah at left guard.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Falcons game at Raymond James Stadium was 62,578. The kickoff temperature was 44 degrees with a wind chill of 41 degrees under cloudy skies.UP NEXT
The Buccaneers conclude the 2009 regular season with a 3-13 record, which was the team’s worst season since 1991.
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