This was billed as one of the marquee match-ups of the weekend, and it definitely lived up to the hype. The Falcons came away with a huge victory at home, continuing with the trend of NFC South teams being dominant against divisional foes in their own house. This one went right down to the wire, with defense and special teams playing huge parts in each teams success.
Brian Griese wound up getting the start for Jeff Garcia, who was nursing a calf injury, and was listed as inactive for this one. The Buccaneers rush defense didn’t show up, for the second week in a row, but their secondary played very well, confusing Matt Ryan with their coverages, and forcing three turnovers. Michael Turner got back on track with a 32 carry, 152 yard rushing game, and added a touchdown.
The first half was dominated by the Falcons, for the most part, as they seemed to be having their way with the Bucs defense, but Matt Ryan had two costly picks. The Bucs, on the other hand, could not move the ball whatsoever, and it wasn’t until late in the first half before they finally were able to cross the 50 yard line. Matt Ryan led his team on two scoring drives in the first quarter: the first, a 7 play, 26 yard drive resulting in a Jason Elam field goal; the second, a 9 play, 72 yard trek, that was capped off by Michael Turner taking it to the house.
The Falcons looked to be in control, but Ryan’s second interception, late in the first half, swung the momentum going into halftime. Brian Griese would turn the turnover into points, as he led the Bucs’ offense down the field very quickly, and threw a strike to Antonio Bryant in the end zone with only a few seconds left on the clock. Bryant was a terror in the first half, catching 7 balls for 106 yards and a touchdown.
The second half was very sloppy, as both teams traded turnovers. After forcing a punt from the Bucs, on the second half’s first possession, Matt Ryan looked to have put his team convincingly ahead with a 27 yard touchdown pass to rarely used tight end, Jason Rader. However, Tampa Bay challenged the play and it ended up being overturned. Matt Ryan, though, would run the exact same play on the very next sequence, and it worked, but this time Rader would fumble it on the one yard line, recovered by the Buccaneers.
Brian Griese would give it right back, throwing an interception of his own, but Atlanta would not capitalize on this break. The game would not get interesting again until the fourth quarter, when Matt Bryant would miss a 53 yard field goal that could have tied the game with under four minutes left. The field goal could have been shorter, but Bucs’ center Jeff Faine was called for a false start on third and one, making it third and six, and Griese would not be able to convert.
The Falcons would not be able to kill the clock, though, and would go three and out, forced to punt. Then the Bucs’ special teams came up with a huge play, blocking the punt, and recovering it deep in Falcons’ territory. The Falcons defense came up huge, though, helped out by a John Abraham sack, they only allowed the tying field goal.
Tampa Bay won the overtime coin toss, obviously electing to receive. They would end up being forced to punt, as John Abraham came up with another huge sack on Brian Griese, his third of the day, on a third down play. Matt Ryan, as we have become accustomed to, would then lead his team on an impressive game-winning drive. Ryan made plays with his feet, and his arm, as he lead his team into field goal range. Michael Turner would also be a huge factor in this drive, with a few key runs. Jason Elam would knock in the winning field goal from 34 yards out.
This has truly been one of the most incredible turnarounds by a team from one season to the next, and the Falcons now control their own destiny in the NFC playoff picture. They will now travel to Minnesota to face a Vikings team that is in their own divisional race, and then get St. Louis at home in their season finale.
If they win both, they will be in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Bucs have a favorable schedule down the stretch, but will need help from either the Falcons or the Cowboys. They play their last two games at home, where they are undefeated, and against two teams, the Chargers and Raiders, who are not in playoff contention. The next two weeks, will be very interesting, that is for sure.