The Buccaneers have made a living off come-from-behind wins this season, but quarterback Josh Freeman’s fourth quarter heroics were denied by the Falcons as Tampa Bay was beaten in Atlanta, 27-21.
The Bucs had driven 89 yards in 12 plays down to the Atlanta 2-yard line, but on fourth-and-1 from the 2, the Falcons defense led by defensive back Thomas DeCoud stuffed running back LeGarrette Blount, who led the team with 46 yards on 13 carries, for no gain as Tampa Bay lost possession on a turnover on downs.
“It was a dive play and I bounced it out,” Blount said. “I think I got it. It was a bad spot. … It was unfortunate that we didn’t win it. That’s all I can say.”
After the game, Freeman was upset that his team couldn’t pull off yet another rally in the fourth quarter.
“We were moving the ball and got down to the 1-yard line and it falls on us,” Freeman said. “We couldn’t punch it in. This time last year they converted on four down to win the game, and this year this time around we weren’t able to do so. But it gives me a lot of hope. A lot of guys made a lot of big plays. A lot of guys stepped up. We were right in that thing and I feel we could have easily come away with a different outcome.”
The Falcons won the battle of two 5-2 teams and took the lead in the NFC South division.
Freeman was hot in the first half, keeping the Bucs in the game with two touchdown passes after they fell behind 14-0. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 126 yards with two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of play, but two second half interceptions denied Tampa Bay scoring opportunities as he completed just 3-of-8 passes for 63 yards after halftime. Freeman had produced four come-from-behind victories this season, but was unable to record a fifth on Sunday.
“I feel like it was my worst game this season,” Freeman said. “I have to come back, study and get ready for Carolina and once again, find a way to win.”
The loss, which snaps the Bucs’ five-game winning streak on the road, came down to the turnover margin, which had ranked second in the NFL with a plus-8 margin. Tampa Bay had two turnovers and its defense, which led the league in interceptions with 14, failed to generate a takeaway.
Atlanta outgained Tampa Bay 365-278 yards and converted 57 percent of its third downs (8-of-14). Quarterback Matt Ryan was 24-of-36 for 235 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions and had to play much of the game without number one wide receiver Roddy White, who injured his knee in the first quarter. White, who came into Sunday’s game as the NFL’s leading receiver with 55 catches for 754 yards, finished with four catches for 49 yards. Tight end Tony Gonzalez led the way through the air with eight catches for 72 yards for Atlanta.
Running back Michael Turner did some damage on the ground for Atlanta, running for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, while Tampa Bay’s ground game was not as effective. Blount was held to 46 yards on 13 carries (3.5 avg.) and Cadillac Williams was shut down with 13 yards on eight carries (1.6 avg.).
Rookie wide receiver Mike Williams continued his impressive play for the Buccaneers, catching four passes for 89 yards, including a career-long 58-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and fellow rookie Arrelious Benn caught his first NFL scoring pass in the game to help cut into Atlanta’s lead, which was 17-14 at halftime.
But the biggest plays came from wide receiver Micheal Spurlock in the kick return department. Spurlock had a 66-yard return in the first quarter to spark Tampa Bay’s first touchdown drive, and then returned a kick 89 yards for a touchdown to help Tampa Bay draw to with six points of Atlanta in the fourth quarter when the score was 27-21. Spurlock returned four kicks 209 yards (52.3 avg.) and caught two passes for 46 yards in the losing effort.
After becoming the first player in team history to return a kickoff for a touchdown on December 16, 2007 against Atlanta, Spurlock made history again by becoming the first Buccaneer to have two kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, and he did so against the Falcons, who have the best kick coverage unit in the NFL.
The Falcons got on the scoreboard on their opening possession. Ryan marched Atlanta downfield on a 13-play, 61-yard drive, completing 4-of-5 passes for 43 yards, including hitting tight end Tony Gonzalez with a 15-yard pass on third-and-6 and finding fullback Jason Snelling open for a 4-yard pass on fourth-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 34-yard line. Turner rushed eight times for 28 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run. With 8:06 left in the first quarter, the Falcons went up 7-0.
Atlanta went up 14-0 early in the second quarter after Turner scored his second rushing touchdown. The Falcons marched 99 yards in 10 plays for the score after starting at their own 1-yard line. After Ryan rifled an 11-yard pass to White for a down, he hit Gonzalez for a 9-yard pass on third-and-6 and then converted a third-and-9 situation with a 14-yard dart to Brian Finneran. Ryan then hit Malcom Jenkins with a 43-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 17. Two plays later, Turner would score from 10 yards out and the Falcons would go up 14-0 with 13:39 left in the second quarter.
A 66-yard kick return by Micheal Spurlock would key Tampa Bay’s first scoring drive. On third-and-7 from the Atlanta 29, Freeman hit Mike Williams for a 15-yard gain down to the 14. On the next play, Freeman would hook up with rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn for a 14-yard score, his first NFL touchdown. With 12:10 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay cut Atlanta’s lead to 14-7.
“Micheal Spurlock from Week 1 has continued to be a constant,” Freeman said. “He makes big plays for us week in and week out. He’s one of those guys as a quarterback you grow to trust.”
The Falcons would score on their third straight possession. The Falcons picked up a big first down on a 15-yard personal foul penalty on cornerback Elbert Mack. That set Atlanta up for a 31-yard field goal attempt by former Buc Matt Bryant. Tampa Bay’s defense finally held on third down and Bryant’s field goal gave the Falcons a 17-7 lead with 5:27 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bucs would rally with a 90-yard drive and another touchdown pass by Freeman. But first, Freeman would hit Winslow for a 13-yard gain on third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 14. Four plays later on second-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 42 Freeman hit Mike Williams with a 58-yard touchdown pass. With 2:06 left before halftime, the Falcons’ lead was trimmed to 17-14.
A Tampa Bay turnover would result in another Atlanta touchdown to start the second half. On third-and-5 from the Tampa Bay 30, Freeman was pressured by defensive end Kroy Biermann and was picked off by defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. On first down, Turner ripped off a 19-yard run down to the 11. On third-and-goal, Ryan hit tight end Michael Palmer with a 5-yard touchdown pass to give Atlanta a 24-14 lead with 10:31 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons would drive 59 yards in 11 plays to add a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter. Atlanta would only have one third down the entire drive, but it would be a third-and-15 situation as a result of an offensive pass interference penalty on wide receiver Roddy White. Bryant’s field goal gave Atlanta a 27-14 lead with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bucs would strike back on the ensuing possession as Spurlock returned the kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. With 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Atlanta’s lead had been cut to 27-21.
“The final play on the one-and-a-half yard-line where we needed a yard or so to get in the end zone and we weren’t able to do it,” Freeman said. “That’s really what it comes down to. We had a chance to win it and we weren’t able to do it.”
The Bucs will have a chance to get their sixth win of the season next week as they return home to face the 1-7 Carolina Panthers, who are reeling from injuries to several key starters.STATS THAT COUNT
New Tampa Bay defensive tackle Al Woods saw his first action as Buccaneer filling in for the injured Ryan Sims. … Rookie Erik Lorig recorded his first NFL start at fullback in place of the injured Earnest Graham. … Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams recorded a career-long 58-yard touchdown pass. He finished the game with a team-high four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown. … Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn scored his first NFL touchdown on a 14-yard TD catch in the second quarter. … Linebacker Quincy Black led Tampa Bay with eight tackles. … Rookie linebacker Dekoda Watson recorded the first two tackles on defense in his NFL career against Atlanta. … Tampa Bay did not record any sacks or takeaways on defense against Atlanta. SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Mike Williams
LT Donald Penn
LG Ted Larsen
C Jeremy Zuttah
RG Davin Joseph
RT James Lee
TE Kellen Winslow
TE John Gilmore
WR Arrelious Benn
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Kyle Moore
DT Gerald McCoy
DT Roy Miller
RE Stylez G. White
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Cody Grimm
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
FB Earnest Graham
WR Sammie Stroughter
C Jeff Faine
RT Jeremy Trueblood
DT Ryan Sims
DE Alex Magee
CB Myron LewisBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Linebacker Quincy Black suffered an undisclosed injury in the third quarter and was replaced by Dekoda Watson. Black did not return.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Falcons game in the Georgia Dome was 67,266. The game was played in a domed stadium and weather wasn’t a factor. UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (5-3) will return to Raymond James Stadium to face the Carolina Panthers (1-7) on Sunday, November 14. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be blacked out unless the game sells out, in which case it would be televised on Fox.
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