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DEFENSIVE LINE After allowing over 400 yards of total offense to New Orleans last week, Tampa Bay's defense rebounded vs. Atlanta on Sunday, allowing just 234 yards of total offense and no touchdowns.
Atlanta's ground game, which produced over 300 rushing yards last week vs. Detroit, gained just 105 yards on 28 carries (3.8 avg.). Speedster Michael Turner rushed 14 times for 42 yards (3.0 avg.) and Jerious Norwood had 18 yards on six carries (3.0 avg.). Turner's longest run was a 17-yarder.
The Falcons' longest run was a 33-yarder by wide receiver Harry Douglas. That run came off the left side with defensive end Gaines Adams and nose tackle Chris Hovan, who had two tackles on Sunday, getting blocked out of the play.
However, Adams more than made up for being involved in that big run by applying pressure to Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. In fact, Adams notched two sacks and four quarterback hurries on Sunday. Both of Adams' sacks came from the left defensive end position. Adams finished the game with six tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hurries.
Adams' partner in crime, DE Greg White, recorded 1.5 sacks. White's sack came late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-14 play. His takedown on Ryan forced a turnover on downs and gave the Bucs offense the ball at the 12-yard line. In addition, White was flagged for a personal foul for launching himself into Ryan after a pass play in the third quarter. That penalty gave Atlanta's offense the ball at Tampa Bay's 47-yard line. The Falcons eventually settled for a 27-yard field goal. White recorded two tackles, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries vs. the Falcons.
Tampa Bay DE Kevin Carter combined with White on one of the sacks. He was also extremely active vs. the run, notching four tackles. Jimmy Wilkerson chipped in with three tackles and one quarterback hurry.
LINEBACKERS Despite missing all of Tampa Bay's practices with a hamstring injury this week, Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks found a way to start Sunday's game at the weakside linebacker position. It was Brooks' 207th straight start, which is second amongst active players only behind quarterback Brett Favre. Brooks notched three tackles while playing throughout most of the game.
The Falcons used quite a few three-receiver sets, which played into the Bucs' favor since they left Brooks off of the field and played middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and strongside linebacker Cato June. The Bucs wisely limited Brooks' reps by using rookie Geno Hayes in his place on a few series. Hayes recorded one tackle on Sunday.
One of the biggest plays of the game for Atlanta's offense came on a third-and-6 play in the fourth quarter when Ryan hit wide receiver Laurent Robinson on a crossing route for a 23-yard gain. Robinson was wide open in the area where Tampa Bay's linebackers should have been. Ruud and safety Jermaine Phillips were in on the stop at Tampa Bay's 21-yard line. The Falcons eventually settled for a 24-yard field goal on that drive.
Atlanta converted 7-of-19 (37 percent) of its third downs vs. Tampa Bay.
SECONDARY Tampa Bay rookie cornerback Aqib Talib helped set the tone for the Bucs defense on Sunday when he intercepted Falcons QB Matt Ryan on a third down play on the first offensive series of the game. The ball went off of a receiver's hands and into Talib's as he dove for the ball. That turnover led to a 19-yard, five-play drive that was capped off by QB Brian Griese's 5-yard touchdown throw to tight end John Gilmore. Talib had to leave the game in the third quarter due to a hamstring injury. The severity of the ailment is not yet known.
Talib wasn't the only Bucs defender to notch his first career interception on Sunday. Safety Sabby Piscitelli, who was subbing for Jermaine Phillips on one particular drive, intercepted Ryan on a third-and-10 pass play at the beginning of the second quarter. He returned the ball to the Falcons' 17-yard line. That led to kicker Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal. In the fourth quarter, Piscitelli recovered a fumble from WR Harry Douglas. He attempted to lateral the ball to a teammate while being tackled, but that resulted in another fumble, which allowed the Falcons to retain possession. Atlanta eventually put together 13-play, 77-yard drive that was capped off by a 24-yard field goal. Piscitelli finished the game with one tackle and one interception.
With Talib out of the game due to the hamstring ailment, Bucs rookie CB Elbert Mack saw significant playing time. He was called for a personal foul on the same play as Piscitelli's fumble recovery. That infraction gave the Falcons offense the ball at the Bucs' 46-yard line. The possession eventually led to a field goal for the Falcons. Mack notched one tackle and one quarterback hurry on Sunday.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber was called for two penalties vs. the Falcons. On the second series of the game, Barber was called for holding, which gave the Falcons an automatic first down. Late in the third quarter, Barber was called for pass interference on WR Laurent Robinson's 23-yard reception. The penalty was declined and the pass play resulted in a first down at the Bucs' 34-yard line. The Falcons eventually settled for a 27-yard field goal. Barber finished the game with two tackles. However, he played a significant role in allowing Ryan to complete 13-of-33 (39.3 percent) passes for 158 yards on Sunday.
Bucs free safety Tanard Jackson nearly came up with an interception of his own on the second series of the game when Ryan overthrew one of his receivers. That play forced the Falcons to punt, though. Jackson came up huge late in the third quarter on a third-and-3 play from Tampa Bay's 6-yard line when he brought down RB Jerious Norwood by the ankle and stopped him on an attempted perimeter run for a 3-yard loss. Jackson notched three tackles vs. the Falcons.
Tampa Bay CB Phillip Buchanon had a great pass defense on a pass intended for Douglas in the early part of the second quarter. But he allowed WR Roddy White to haul in a 19-yard pass from Ryan on a third-and-13 play late in the second quarter. That play put the Falcons on the Bucs' 7-yard line with 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The Falcons eventually settled for a field goal. In the third quarter, Buchanon allowed White to haul in a 12-yard pass on a third down play for a first down. On the same drive, Buchanon lost his footing, which allowed Douglas to haul in a pass near the sideline for a first down. That play put the Falcons on the Bucs' 13-yard line. Atlanta eventually kicked a 27-yard field goal. Buchanon notched five tackles and two passes defensed vs. Atlanta.
Atlanta's leading receiver was White, who caught four passes for 59 yards vs. Tampa Bay.
SPECIAL TEAMS Bucs kicker Matt Bryant made a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter after Piscitelli's interception. That field goal put the Bucs up 17-0 over the Falcons.
Piscitelli forced a fumble on the final kickoff of the game after Earnest Graham's touchdown run, but the Bucs failed to recover the loose ball. He was also called for being offsides on a punt near the end of the first quarter. However, punter Josh Bidwell took advantage of the extra opportunity by getting off a 56-yard punt. Fullback Byron Storer recorded the tackle on the play to only allow a 6-yard return.
While he notched two special teams tackles, Storer missed a key tackle on Adam Jennings' 37-yard return on a 43-yard punt late in the second quarter. That gave the Falcons the ball at the Bucs' 23-yard line. It led to a seven-play, 9-yard drive that was capped off by a 33-yard field goal by Jason Elam, which made the score 17-3 in favor of the Bucs at halftime.
Bidwell averaged 46.6 yards per punt on five attempts. He pinned two of them inside the 20-yard line.
Bucs wide receiver Dexter Jackson had two punt returns for zero yards. He averaged 20.3 yards per kickoff return on three attempts. His longest return was a 32-yarder.
COACHING Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had his group prepared for Atlanta's potentially potent ground attack. The Bucs used their speed to swarm to the football and did a decent job of containing and tackling Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. Kiffin also mixed up coverages to confuse Falcons rookie signal caller Matt Ryan, who threw two interceptions and was sacked four times on Sunday.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's offense took advantage of the Falcons' turnovers. The Bucs needed just 19 yards to have QB Brian Griese hit TE John Gilmore for a touchdown in the first quarter. Tampa Bay could only go two yards on four plays in the second quarter, which led to a Matt Bryant field goal. Gruden remained committed to the ground game, and the Bucs had success running the football vs. the Falcons, producing 164 yards on 28 carries (5.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's penchant for penalties remains an issue. The Bucs were penalized 11 times for 94 yards vs. Atlanta on Sunday.