The Atlanta Falcons (9-1) will face the resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4) on Sunday. This will be the 21st meeting between the two teams since the creation of the NFC South in 2002. While the New Orleans Saints may be Atlanta's bitter rival, Tampa Bay might be Atlanta's most brutal.
The first 10 years of the rivalry has been marked by aggressive play that lasts long after the whistle. During that time, the Buccaneers have accumulated 141 penalties for 1,208 yards. The Falcons have fared slightly better with 113 penalties for 966 yards. Of course, the majority of pushes, shoves and punches go unflagged.
(Note: All stats confirmed at NFL.com)
2003 Sets Precedent
In 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set the tone for the years to follow. In the two games against Atlanta, Tampa Bay racked up 17 penalties including four face-masks, unnecessary roughness, roughing the kicker, and roughing the quarterback calls.
The Atlanta Falcons were not innocent victims. Atlanta Falcons LB Arte Ulmer was ejected during the second half of the two teams' second meeting for unnecessary roughness. This back and forth would continue no matter either teams' record.
Allen Rossum's Eyeball
In 2005, there was a controversial incident when visiting Tampa Bay swarmed Atlanta's kick returner Allen Rossum. Rossum emerged from the pile holding holding his eye. A melee ensued, and the Falcons were penalized.
Later in the game, Falcons' linebacker Demorio Williams exacted revenge by poking Tampa Bay RB Cadillac Williams in the eye.Two other Falcons would also be fined for offenses in that game.
Welcome To Hate Week
In 2008, Atlanta's rookie quarterback and rookie head coach got their first taste of the rivalry. Tampa Bay befuddled Matt Ryan and repeatedly knocked him around. Mike Smith got himself noticed when he had to explain to the referee that Tampa Bay committing two separate penalties did not mean that they were offsetting.
Smith's red-faced explanation was quite a spectacle from the then relatively unknown coach.
More To Come
The Falcons will be looking to right the ship after a lackluster win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The Buccaneers will be trying to show the Falcons that there is still life in the NFC South. That alone would brew a storm of contempt.
But the Falcons will be bringing a sizable chip on their shoulder and are in search of respect. First-year coach Greg Schiano has the Buccaneers playing with a never-say-die attitude and a strong physical presence.
Given the sometimes-violent nature of this rivalry, the cannons at Raymond James Stadium might not be the only thing exploding when the teams meet on Sunday.