TAMPA – Dressed in orange and white throwback uniforms, the Buccaneers went toe-to-toe with the visiting Atlanta Falcons for the better part of four quarters, but ultimately fell to the best team in the NFL, 28-24. The Bucs had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter with 10:24 left after fullback Earnest Graham tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Gilmore, but momentum swung back to the Falcons after Eric Weems’ 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 24-21.
“Obviously, we missed a couple tackles,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “They ran [the ball] back to get the momentum back, and that was a swinging part of the game, but that certainly won’t be an excuse. It certainly won’t be the reason that we lost. We still had a three-point lead and you still have to win those games.”
Bucs wide receivers Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall both had opportunities to tackle Weems or push him out of bounds, but failed to do so as he tight-roped the sideline en route to a franchise-record kick return for a touchdown.
“That was a bad play on my part and a great call by Coach [Rich] Bisaccia,” Stovall said. “It was just a play where you have to make that play. Missed tackles – you can’t have missed tackles. In a big game like this, hidden yardage is a big deal. It was unfortunate for us that they had that touchdown in the fourth quarter because it put us in a bad position. Tomorrow we’ll lick our wounds, correct our mistakes and win on out from here to the remainder of the season.”
For the first time all season, the Bucs have suffered back-to-back losses with the defeat to the Falcons coming after a 17-10 loss at Baltimore. Tampa Bay will likely have to win out to finish 11-5 to guarantee itself a chance to make the postseason.
The Bucs had a chance to win, even after Matt Ryan’s fourth quarter touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins gave the Falcons a 28-24 lead with 4:31 left in regulation. Tampa Bay’s comeback bid fell short as Freeman’s pass to Mike Williams was intercepted by cornerback Brent Grimes at the Falcons’ 27. The instant replay booth reviewed the call, and even though it appeared the ball might have hit the ground as Grimes rolled over to return the pick 33 yards, it was not conclusive enough to overturn the call.
“He was off and that’s a look that we stuck it in there three previous times whether it got called back or Mike [Williams] slipped or whatever,” said Freeman, who completed 19-of-38 passes (50 percent) for 181 yards with one touchdown and one pick against Atlanta. “That was the look. I put the ball right where I wanted to and it was a great play by Grimes. He’s a great corner and he finds a way to make plays and today was no different. He made a play when it mattered.”
The Falcons came into Sunday’s game without a turnover in its last four games and were looking to make history by being the first NFL team to accomplish that feat in five straight contests. However, Tampa Bay’s secondary, which played virtually the final three quarters without top cornerback Aqib Talib, who suffered a right hip injury, victimized Matt Ryan twice. Strong safety Sean Jones intercepted Ryan in the second quarter to help key a Bucs touchdown drive that tied the score at 14-14 at halftime.
Early in the fourth quarter, Corey Lynch, who was getting his first NFL start in place of the injured Cody Grimm, recorded his second career interception and his first as a Buccaneer. That turnover led to the Bucs’ final touchdown, which put them up by 10 before Weems’ kickoff return heroics sparked Atlanta’s comeback.
Ryan finished the day completing 18-of-36 passes (50 percent) for 205 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Tampa Bay’s defense did a good job against the Falcons offense, holding wide receiver Roddy White (seven catches for 74 yards) and running back Michael Turner (24 carries for 88 yards) in check. But Atlanta won the battle on third down, converting 55 percent (6-of-11) while Tampa Bay struggled to convert just 33 percent (5-of-15) despite outgaining Atlanta 325-290 yards.
Running back LeGarrett Blount recorded his second 100-yard rushing day in the NFL as he racked up 103 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries (5.0 avg.). Tampa Bay rushed for 151 yards, including 28 yards on four carries by Freeman.
After getting swept by Atlanta and remaining in third place in the NFC South and behind the eight ball in the NFC playoff picture with a 7-5 record, the Bucs will be under the gun to win out down the stretch.
“We have four more games left to prove that [we belong in the playoffs],” Morris said. “It will be determined here soon. We have four games to come out. Next week we have the Washington Redskins at their place and we have to get ready to play.”
Atlanta got on the scoreboard on its second offensive possession. Turner rushed four times for 21 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown. Ryan was 2-of-2 on the drive with both passes finding tight end Tony Gonzalez for 31 yards, including a 17-yarder down to the 5-yard line to set up Turner’s score. With 6:23 left in the first quarter, Atlanta went up 7-0.
Tampa Bay answered on its next possession with an 11-play, 86-yard touchdown drive. Blount was the catalyst with five carries for 42 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle. Freeman also had a 17-yard scramble and completed a 10-yard strike to tight end Ryan Purvis and an 11-yard strike to Mike Williams – both went for first downs. With 25 seconds left in the first quarter, the score was tied at 7-7.
The turning point on this drive was a 15-yard penalty on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who finished with just one tackle, one play after White was flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after being tackled for a 3-yard loss on a wide receiver screen. Atlanta went from a second-and-28 from its own 42 to a first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 17 after a 10-yard catch by running back Gartrell Johnson and McCoy’s penalty. Three plays later, fullback Ovie Mughelli caught a 17-yard screen pass from Ryan and took it to the house. The Falcons’ drive covered 60 yards in eight plays, and with 4:37 left in the second quarter, Atlanta reclaimed the lead, 14-7.
The Bucs were able to tie the game after Jones picked off Ryan and returned the interception 31 yards down to the Atlanta 31. Williams had catches of nine and four yards before catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Freeman. With 15 seconds left before halftime, the score was tied 14-14.
A 38-yard kickoff return by Micheal Spurlock out to the Tampa Bay 34 keyed a 51-yard scoring drive in eight plays for the Buccaneers. Blount had carries of 28, four and 10 yards to get the Bucs down to the Falcons’ 24-yard line. On third-and-8 from the 22, Winslow caught a 7-yard pass that brought up a fourth-and-1. A 33-yard field goal by Connor Barth gave Tampa Bay a 17-14 lead with 11:34 left in the third quarter.
An interception by Grimes of a Freeman pass, which was returned to the Tampa Bay 23, was overturned when Morris challenged the call via instant replay. That set up a third-and-11 situation from the Tampa Bay 25 in which Freeman was forced to throw an incompletion as he scrambled out of bounds. But a late hit on Freeman by defensive end Kroy Biermann gave Tampa Bay a first down. The drive didn’t result in points for Tampa Bay, but punter Rob Malone and Spurlock downed the ball at the Atlanta 4.
Tampa Bay increased its lead with a touchdown drive that was keyed by an interception by Lynch at the Atlanta 39. Freeman hit Williams with a 9-yard pass on first down, and that followed that up with a 28-yard catch-and-run by Arrelious Benn down to the Atlanta 2. On second-and-goal from the 2, Graham took the handoff and ran to the right before lofting a 2-yard touchdown pass to Gilmore. With 10:24 left in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay led Atlanta 24-14.
But that lead was short-lived as Weems returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. Stroughter and Stovall missed prime tackling opportunities on Weems’ return, and with 10:03 left in the fourth quarter, the Bucs’ lead was trimmed to 24-21.
Atlanta roared back on its next drive to take the lead. Ryan capped off a 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive with a 9-yard scoring pass to Jenkins on third-and-3 from the 9. The Bucs aided the Falcons’ touchdown drive by allowing White to catch a 25-yard pass on third-and-20 from the Atlanta 23 and with a 10-yard pass interference penalty by cornerback Ronde Barber on Gonzalez on third-and-2 on the Tampa Bay 44. Linebacker Quincy Black gave the Falcons a free 15 yards with a horse collar tackle on Turner. That gave the Falcons a first down at the Tampa Bay 16. Two plays later, Jenkins scored to give Atlanta a 28-24 lead with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter.STATS THAT COUNT
Mike Williams tied Michael Clayton’s rookie touchdown receptions record with his seventh scoring catch this season. Williams now has 50 catches for 760 yards, which is the fourth-most catches by a rookie in Bucs history, and the third-most receiving yards in team annals. … Strong safety Sean Jones recorded his first interception this season and his initial pick as a Buccaneer when he stole a pass from Matt Ryan in the second quarter. He led the team with eight tackles. … Corey Lynch got his first NFL start at free safety in place of the injured Cody Grimm and finished with his first interception as a Buccaneer to go along with three tackles on defense and a team-high two on special teams. … Bucs rookie Derek Hardman took his first offensive snaps in the fourth quarter when center Jeff Faine was injured in the fourth quarter. Hardman was inserted at right guard when Jeremy Zuttah moved from that spot to center to replace Faine. … The touchdown pass by Earnest Graham was his second as a Buccaneer. His first came in 2008 at Kansas City when he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alex Smith. …. The touchdown catch by tight end John Gilmore was his first of the season and the fifth of his NFL career. … Quarterback Josh Freeman threw his 16th touchdown pass of the season and the 26th of his career, which ties him with Shaun King (1999-2003) for the eighth-most TD passes in team history. … Bucs safety Vince Anderson played in his first NFL game on Sunday. … Punter Robert Malone recorded the longest punt of the season for the Buccaneers with a 64-yard kick in the fourth quarter. It was also a career-long for the rookie punter. … Tampa Bay played 10 rookies against the Falcons, which marks the eighth straight game in which the Bucs have played at least 10 rookies. Five of those 10 rookies started against the Falcons.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 Jeff Faine
RG Jeremy Zuttah
RT James Lee
TE Ryan Purvis
TE John Gilmore
WR Arrelious Benn
RB LeGarrette Blount
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Tim Crowder
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 Corey Lynch
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
WR Preston Parker
WR Dezmon Briscoe
OT Will Barker
G Brandon Carter
DT Frank Okam
LB Dekoda Watson
SS Larry AsanteBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Bucs running back Kregg Lumpkin suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return.
Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib suffered a right leg injury in the second quarter and left the game. He did not return and was replaced by rookie Myron Lewis and veteran Elbert Mack.
Early in the fourth quarter, center Jeff Faine sustained a triceps injury and had to leave the game. Jeremy Zuttah moved from right guard to center and rookie Derek Hardman was inserted at right guard.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Falcons game at Raymond James Stadium was 53,955 The game was played under sunny skies with a kickoff temperature of 72 degrees with 53 percent humidity.UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (7-5) travel to Washington to face the Redskins (5-7) on Sunday, December 12. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on Fox.
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