After two maddening years of suffering with a struggling kicker, who made just 60 percent of his attempts, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden is thrilled to have Matt Bryant attempting field goals for the Buccaneers in 2005. Bryant was 3-for-3 on field goals on Sunday, including his first game-winner for Tampa Bay – a 45-yarder – with 47 seconds left in regulation as the visiting Bucs held on for a 30-27 victory over the rival Atlanta Falcons.
Aided by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Tampa Bay defensive tackle Ellis Wyms, a 19-yard connection from Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver Michael Jenkins, and a 4-yard pass from Vick to tight end Alge Crumpler, the Falcons had a last-chance attempt to tie the game from the Bucs’ 37-yard line. But Michael Koenen, a rookie punter out of Western Washington, missed a 55-yard field goal attempt as time expired to give Tampa Bay the win.
Because Carolina (7-3) lost on Sunday at Chicago, who will travel to Tampa Bay next week, the Bucs (7-3) moved into a tie for first place in the NFC South division with the Panthers, while the Falcons (6-4) fall to second place with the loss. However, Carolina does hold a half-game edge over Tampa Bay thanks to its 34-14 win at Raymond James Stadium three weeks ago. The two teams meet again in Charlotte, N.C. on December 11.
Due to the fast, artificial playing surface at the Georgia Dome, there was talk all week inside One Buccaneer Place that rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams would break out of his slump against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. On Tampa Bay’s first play from scrimmage, Cadillac turned the Georgia Dome into his own personal racetrack with a 30-yard gain that helped his team jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
Williams, who rushed for 116 yards on 19 carries (6.1 avg.), finished the game just as strong as he started it by accounting for 32 rushing yards and eight receiving yards on the Buccaneers’ second to last possession, including his 9-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 27-27. But it was that difficult, 8-yard catch-and-run on third-and-6 on the snap prior to his touchdown dash that proved to be one of the game’s biggest plays.
That third down conversion was one of only two the Buccaneers had in the entire game, as Tampa Bay finished just 2-of-8 (25 percent) on third downs. Meanwhile, Atlanta thrived on third downs, tormenting the Buccaneers defense with 11 conversions on 17 attempts (65 percent). That allowed Vick, who finished the game completing 21-of-38 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, and the Falcons to rack up 443 yards against Tampa Bay, and maintain a 36:02 to 23:58 time of possession advantage.
Although the Tampa Bay defense was shaky in pass coverage, and struggled stopping Warrick Dunn (18 carries for 82 yards) and T.J. Duckett (14 carries for 51 yards and one score), the Bucs didn’t allow Vick to beat them with his scrambling ability and held him to 17 yards on four carries. Tampa Bay sacked Vick twice, and both plays were disastrous for the Falcons.
In the first quarter, Bucs under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland collapsed the pocket to sack Vick at the Atlanta 1-yard line. On third-and-22, Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, who replaced Vick for one play after he got hurt from being taken down by McFarland, was sacked by defensive end Simeon Rice on the next snap and fumbled in the end zone. McFarland recovered the ball for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead.
The Bucs forced another fumble on their next sack, which came with 1:07 left in the game after Tampa Bay had just tied the score at 27-27. Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks timed the snap count perfectly and blitzed Vick on second-and-2 at the Atlanta 39. Brooks leaped over Dunn’s cut block attempt and managed to strip the ball out of Vick’s hands. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles recovered the fumble for Tampa Bay at the Falcons 34.
An 8-yard run by Williams on third-and-10 picked up enough yardage to get the Bucs in field goal position, and Bryant was able to connect on the 45-yarder, which proved to be the game-winner.
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms, who has now won back-to-back games, including his first NFL road contest, was given plenty of time to throw the ball due to great protection from the offensive line, and wasn’t sacked for the second straight week. Although he did throw a costly interception in the fourth quarter that led to an Atlanta touchdown, Simms kept his poise throughout the day and completed 11-of-19 passes for 118 yards, finding Michael Clayton three times for 48 yards, and rookie tight end Alex Smith three times for 43 yards. For just the second time this season, Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway was held without a catch.
Tampa Bay jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the game’s first possession. On his first carry of the game, Williams followed the block of pulling right guard Sean Mahan and a great kick-out block by Smith and exploded for a 30-yard gain off the left side of the line before being dragged down by Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall. At the end of the play, Hall shoved Smith, which drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and set up the Bucs with a first-and-10 at the Atlanta 34. Two plays later, Simms rolled to his left and threw a play-action pass to Smith that picked up 18 yards down to the Atlanta 18. But Tampa Bay’s drive stalled out at the 13-yard line three plays later, and the Bucs had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Bryant to cap off the seven-play, 66-yard drive.
After trading two three-and-out possessions, Atlanta started at its own 13-yard line after a personal foul by punt returner Allen Rossum was enforced. After an incomplete pass and a false start, Vick was sacked by McFarland at the 1-yard line and injured his leg, which caused him to leave the game momentarily. On third-and-22, Rice wheeled around left tackle Kevin Shaeffer, sacked Shaub in the end zone and forced a fumble that was recovered by McFarland for a touchdown. The touchdown was McFarland’s first in the NFL, and with 7:03 left in the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 10-0.
On Atlanta’s next drive, Duckett got the Falcons running game going with 34 yards, including a 17-yard run. Vick’s 21-yard strike to Jenkins got the ball down to the Tampa Bay 35, but the Bucs defense stiffened. On fourth-and-8 from the 33, Atlanta elected to go for it, but Vick was pressured by Rice and threw an incomplete pass intended for Dunn.
After the Bucs took over at the Atlanta 33, Williams rushed for five yards before Falcons defensive tackle Darrell Shropshire drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Atlanta self-destructed early in the game and had more penalty yardage in the first quarter than it had offensive yardage. The Falcons would finish the game with 11 penalties for 87 yards.
On the next play, Mike Alstott took a handoff at the Atlanta 47 and raced 22 yards off left tackle for a big gain. However, the play was called back on an illegal formation penalty. On first-and-15 from the Tampa Bay 48, Simms fired a 19-yard pass to Smith down to the Atlanta 33. But after three plays netted just one yard, Bryant was called on to make a 45-yard field goal. With 8:38 left before halftime, Tampa Bay led 13-0.
Atlanta would finally get some points on the board on its next possession. A 35-yard pass from Vick to rookie receiver Roddy White down to the Tampa Bay 29 was sandwiched in between a 9-yard catch, and runs of 15 and 12 yards by Dunn. But Atlanta’s drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 12, and the Falcons had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Todd Peterson. With 4:31 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay led 13-3.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Falcons got the ball back at their own 17 and came up with a big play on third-and-10 when Vick rolled to his left and found White deep for a 51-yard pass down to the Tampa Bay 29. White got behind Quarles and Jermaine Phillips for the huge gain. Three plays later, Alge Crumpler gained seven yards down to the Tampa Bay 18 to pick up a first down. Crumpler also came up big on third-and-7, whose 14-yard grab picked up another first down and set Atlanta up with a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left. On the next play, Duckett powered into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left before halftime, to make it a three-point game with Tampa Bay leading 13-10. Vick was 4-of-7 passing for 78 yards on the drive.
The Falcons would start the second half as hot as they ended the first half on their first possession of the third quarter. On third-and-7 from the Atlanta 30, Vick found receiver Brian Finneran for a 20-yard gain to the 50-yard line. On the next play, Vick hit Crumpler with a 20-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 30. Three runs by Dunn picked up 9, three and 14 yards and set up Atlanta with a first-and-goal from the Bucs 4. After two plays didn’t pick up a yard, Vick killed the Bucs on third down again with a 4-yard missile to Crumpler, who beat Brooks and safety Kalvin Pearson, who started in place of the injured Dexter Jackson and Will Allen, in coverage. That touchdown capped off 17 unanswered points put up by Atlanta, which led 17-13 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.
But Tampa Bay finally halted Atlanta’s scoring run with a score of its own. After Williams gained nine yards on the first two carries of the drive, Simms found Clayton with a 27-yard gain across the middle on third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 30. That was the first third down conversion the Bucs had picked up all day. Williams ripped off runs of five and 16 yards down to the Atlanta 7. After a 6-yard run by Michael Pittman, Alstott went airborne from 1-yard out and scored a touchdown to regain the lead for the Buccaneers, 20-17, with 5:32 left in the third quarter. With that touchdown, Alstott became the Bucs’ first non-kicker to accumulate over 400 points in his career.
Vick kept haunting the Bucs on third down on the Falcons’ next possession, but it was Tampa Bay that killed itself on the first third down of the drive. On third-and-2, a defensive holding call on Bucs cornerback Juran Bolden gave Atlanta a first down. Passes of 19 yards to Duckett and six yards to Jenkins moved the ball across midfield and into Tampa Bay territory. On third-and-6 from the Bucs’ 21, Vick hit Finneran with a 17-yard gain down to the 4 as Phillips blew the coverage. Incredibly, the Bucs finally stymied the Falcons on a third down when a Vick scramble only picked up two yards down to the Tampa Bay 2. Peterson’s 20-yard field goal tied the game at 20-20 with 12:56.
The Bucs were fortunate on the ensuing kickoff when Peterson’s kick went out of bounds, which drew a penalty that enabled Tampa Bay to start at their own 40-yard line. But two plays later, Simms’ pass to tight end Anthony Becht was picked off by Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, who returned the ball to the Bucs’ 49.
Atlanta would capitalize on the turnover and score on its fifth straight possession. Once again, on third-and-9, Vick would work his magic and hit White for 13 yards and a first down. Three plays later, Vick would have a repeat performance and find Jenkins for a 13-yard gain on third-and-9 down to the Tampa Bay 21. After a defensive holding call on McFarland gave Atlanta five yards, Vick and Duckett picked up a total of five yards to set up a third-and-5 situation from the Tampa Bay 10. And fittingly, because it was third down, Vick fired a 10-yard scoring pass to Jenkins. Cornerback Brian Kelly slipped while jamming Jenkins, which allowed him to break free for the score that put Atlanta up 27-20 with 7:36 remaining in regulation.
Tampa Bay got its next drive going with an 8-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 37 before picking up a first down with a 4-yard gain. On the next play, Simms hit Clayton with a 15-yard pass down to the Atlanta 44-yard line. Two plays later, the Bucs advanced to the Falcons 32 with a 12-yard pass to Becht. Runs of 6 and 5 yards by Williams preceded a 6-yard rush by Alstott, which set up a first-and-10 at the Atlanta 21. On third-and-6 on the Atlanta 17, Williams made an amazing catch above his head and juked his way for an 8-yard gain down to the Falcons 9. On the next play, Williams raced around left end behind a block from Mahan to score a touchdown to tie the game at 27-27.
Vick would fumble on Atlanta’s next series to set up Bryant’s game-winning kick.
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