Sunday, December 14, 2008

Falcons Outlast Bucs in Overtime

By JC De La Torre

As gut-wrenching defeats go, this one stings a bit. With the Buccaneers playing their second road division game in a week and playing without two of two defensive linemen and their starting quarterback, Tampa Bay battled the high flying Falcons to a stalemate during regulation, but fell in overtime 13-10. The loss significantly damages the Buccaneers playoff chance and forces Tampa Bay into must win situations for the final two games of the season.

The full enormity likely won't be known until later tonight when Carolina-Denver, Dallas-New York, and Cleveland-Philadelphia are completed, but the defeat definitely puts the Bucs in deep trouble. With the heart of the Buccaneers defensive line, Chris Hovan, out of the lineup, the Falcons took advantage, pounding Michael Turner between the tackles to the tune of 152 yds on 33 carries.

The Falcons would jump on Tampa Bay quickly, as special teams penalty put the Buccaneer offense and backup QB Brian Griese deep in their own territory. The Bucs offensive line would commit a penalty pushing them back further and after punting, the Falcons took over at the Tampa Bay 33. The Bucs defense stood strong, allowing the Falcons to only drive it 26 yds and settle for a 26 yd Jason Elam field goal to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead with 6:53 left in the first.

After the ensuing Bucs drive stalled, Atlanta would drive 72 yds in 9 plays, highlighted by a 30 yd reception by Roddy White to set up Michael Turner's 2 yd touchdown, Atlanta held a 10-0 lead as the first quarter came to a close.

Midway through the second quarter, the Bucs defense thwarted an attempt by the Falcons to extend the lead as rookie Aquib Talib intercepted Atlanta Quarterback Matt Ryan in the end zone. Later with 1:23 left in the first half, the Bucs would get to the rookie again, this time the ageless one, Ronde Barber would victimize the rookie, picking him off at the Tampa Bay 35 yd line. The Bucs comatose offense would finally come to life, with Griese moving the Bucs 67 yds in 10 plays culminating with another touchdown grab from Antonio Bryant, who finished the day with 8 catches for 108 yds, going over 1,000 yds for only the 2nd time in his career and earning a career high in receptions. The Bucs trailed 10-7 at the half.

The Bucs opened the 3rd quarter with a 3-and-out, and Atlanta moved down the football down to the Tampa Bay 33. After scrambling away from the Tampa Bay rush, Matt Ryan found little used tigh end Jeff Rader for a touchdown and a commanding 16-7 lead...or did they? Jon Gruden challenged and it was ruled that Bucs Safety Jermaine Phillips forced Rader to fumble to football at the one and it was clearly recovered in the end zone by Phillip Buchanon, Atlanta was denied points and the football.

The Bucs offense would fail to capitalize, as Brian Griese inexplicably threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Falcons corner Dominique Foxworth. The teams would exchange punts the remainder of the third quarter and moving into the 4th quarter until finally, Tampa Bay mounted another drive. The Bucs drove all the way to the Atlanta 30 yd line, where Jeff Faine would get called for an illegal snap and the Bucs would be penalized 5 yds, Griese's 3rd down pass would fall incomplete and Tampa Bay would have to settle for a 53 yd field goal attempt by Matt Bryant. Bryant's kick had the power but lacked the accuracy, as he pulled it to the left.

Atlanta failed to take advantage of the field position, going three-and-out, and then punter Michael Koenen's punt was blocked by Bucs special teamer Brian Clark, the block was fielded by reserve safety Sabby Piscitelli, who returned it 18yds to the Atlanta 22. Griese hit Michael Clayton at the Atlanta 11 while the two-minute warning expired, then Cadillac Williams 3 yd carry put the Bucs at point blank range at the 9. Then the Bucs offense, which we all know is red zone challeged, hit reverse. First, Griese held the ball to long and was sacked for an 11 yd loss, then Aaron Sears was called for holding, backing the Bucs back to the 30. Jon Gruden called a draw play on 3rd and 28 and Warrick Dunn scampered for 10 yds to the 20. Matt Bryant flirted with the right upright but tucked it in with 0:34 left in regulation to tie the game at 10.

The Bucs won the toss in overtime, but another special teams miscue on the kickoff pinned the Bucs at their own 7. Tampa Bay moved it out to their own 37 but Griese again held the ball to long on third down and was sacked for a 13 yd loss. Punter Josh Bidwell blasted a nice of 47 yds with no return, putting the Falcons at their own 29, but the Falcons would take advantage of the winded Bucs defense, driving it 55 yds in 11 plays, to set up veteran kicker Jason Elam's 34 yd game winner. The Falcons overcame a fumble by Matt Ryan that was recovered by a Falcons offensive lineman. Elam lined up and tucked it in the left upright - ballgame, Atlanta wins and the Bucs lose two straight for the first time this season.

The Falcons and Bucs are now tied with 9-5 records in the NFC South and the Bucs are now in a dogfight for one of the NFC's two wild card spots. The good news for the Bucs, is they have San Diego and Oakland at home to wrap up the season where they are undefeated, in Raymond James Stadium. One last note, Warrick Dunn became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 yds and have 500 receptions in his career.

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