Falcons vs. Buccaneers: Live Game Grades and Player Analysis for Atlanta
It once again came down to the very last play of the game for the Atlanta Falcons (10-1), who were able to knock down a Josh Freeman hail mary for a tight 24-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5).
After leading the Buccaneers 17-13 after three quarters, the Falcons looked to be in trouble down 23-17 with just minutes left to play. However, a Michael Turner touchdown run put the Falcons back on top 24-17 with seven minutes remaining in the game, a lead they were able to hold onto for the win.
Here's a look at the Falcons' final game grades.
Ryan finished 26-of-32 for 353 yards and a touchdown with one interception on the day. He spread the ball around efficiently and equally among his receivers and generally played mistake-free. While this is to be expected against the league's last-ranked passing defense, Ryan nonetheless bounced back very well from last week's five-interception game.
Matt Ryan stood tall to throw first down after first down throughout the quarter, hitting his receivers with accurate passes and checking off when needed. He wasn't asked to do much more this quarter, as the Falcons focused on running out the clock once they went up 24-17 with seven minutes left to play.
How did Ryan bounce back from an earlier interception? How about by throwing a perfect pass down the sideline to a streaking Julio Jones for an 80-yard touchdown.
An incomplete pass on third down on the ensuing drive is the only thing keeping this grade from a perfect one.
Koetter opened up the play book in the second quarter and Matt Ryan took advantage, going 5-for-5 for 57 yards on the quarter's opening drive. Ryan kept his eyes downfield and bought time outside the pocket, waiting for his man to get open instead of just checking it down.
Things turned bad on the second drive however, with Ryan throwing an ill-advised pass in traffic to Julio Jones that resulted in an interception.
But on the third drive Ryan went right back to work, at once staying patient for the screen pass to develop and at other times stepping up in the pocket and taking his shots downfield where just his receiver can make the catch.
Ryan finished the first quarter 5-of-5 for 33 yards. He took what the defense gave him and played it safe but perhaps too safe, throwing a short pass to Rodgers on 3rd and short in the red zone instead of aiming for the end zone. Rodgers got stuffed, leading to a field goal.
The Falcons asked a lot of Jacquizz Rodgers on offense today and he stepped up to the challenge, shifting and dashing his way to 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and adding another 30 yards on two catches through the air.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the day on this side of the ball for the Falcons was Julio Jones who, despite spraining his ankle two weeks ago, finished with a career-high 147 yards receiving and a touchdown on six receptions on the day.
The offense's opening drive of the quarter was one that resulted in a sack fumble when Tampa Bay defensive back E.J. Biggers came free off the edge.
A dropped pass by Jones in the end zone on the second drive was quickly made up for with solid blocking to allow Michael Turner to take a Ryan toss three yards to pay dirt for the go-ahead score.
That's all they would need, as the Falcons spent their last drive of the game burning the clock in the four-minute offense.
A single deep pass to Julio Jones is all it took for the Falcons to score on their offense's opening drive of the second half. Yeah, I think his injured ankle's doing just fine.
The Falcons went three and out on their second drive of the half, and that's all the would get in the quarter.
On the offense's opening drive, the offensive line gave Ryan all the time he needed to throw Gonzalez was Gonzalez and Julio Jones didn't look the least bit bothered by his ankle. It was all capped off by a 5-yard Rodgers touchdown run.
While the second drive resulted in an interception, the Falcons came back strong in their third, with everyone doing their job as the Falcons marched down the field to reach the Tampa Bay red zone but once again coming away with just three points.
A great time-chewing first drive had the Falcons running well on the ground, with the offensive linemen opening up big lanes and Jacquizz Rodgers breaking ankles when they don't. While they came away with just 3 points, Atlanta's early running game success could pay dividends later in the game.
The Falcons defense held explosive rookie running back Doug Martin to just 50 yards on 21 carries, but won't be happy to have allowed him two touchdowns on the day.
However, aside from a few minor lapses–including two dropped interceptions by Asante Samuel–the Falcons overcame a slow start to finish strong to give a generally solid defensive effort Sunday.
The first play of the quarter was a 1-yard Doug Martin touchdown run, but that's really the result of a bad defensive series on the third quarter's last drive.
The defense tigthented up on the second drive to hold the Buccaneers to a long field goal, before doing the same again on the third drive, only this time seeing the kick sail wide right.
Facing a hail mary by the Buccaneers on the game's last play, Asante Samuel knocked the ball down to secure the win for Atlanta.
The Falcons held Tampa Bay to a field goal on the half's opening drive, but it had a lot more to do with poor throws by Josh Freeman than great defense on Atlanta's part. The drive was marked by a clear lack of pressure from the Falcons' front four, and they were lucky it didn't cost them more than three points.
On the second drive's first play Asante Samuel dropped an easy pick, but his teammates did their job to force a three and out.
The third drive was marked by deep pass allowed to Tiquan Underwood, eventually allowing the Buccaneers to reach the Falcons 1-yard line at the end of the quarter.
Dunta Robinson and Kroy Biermann recorded two sacks on the defense's opening drive, leading to Tampa Bay's first punt of the game.
The defense's second drive didn't get off to a good start, first getting burned on a wide receiver throwback pass that got the Buccaneers inside the Falcons redzone. But once there the defense tightened up to keep Tampa Bay to a field goal.
The Falcons defense was on the field for just one drive, but boy was it an ugly one: Tampa Bay didn't face a single third down, Freeman got all day to throw, and Doug Martin ran around and through Atlanta's front seven en route to the game's first touchdown.
Matt Bryant missing on two of three of his field goal attempts is of great concern. Bryant has been rather inconsistent these last few weeks, and will need to turn things around quickly if he wants to remain a Falcon next season.
A big 43-yard kickoff return by Jacquizz Rodgers gave the Falcons great field position to start their second offensive drive of the quarter.
Off-setting that great return is a worrisome missed 48-yarder by Bryant which would have iced the game for the Falcons.
Matt Bryant made his conversion kick and Matt Bosher's 45-yard punt fell inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line.
Matt Bryant missed a 22-yard field goal. Need I say more?
Bryant was perfect from 31 yards out, while the Falcons held the Buccaneers to just a 22-yard return on the ensuing kickoff return.
Mike Smith's poor clock management, questionable calls and generally conservative coaching made it hard on the Falcons Sunday.
Ultimately though, it's hard to question a coach that has just won his 10th game on the season
Dirk Koetter kept trying to force Turner up the gut to start the quarter, a gameplan that was quickly replaced with having Ryan throw five straight passes before having Turner take the ball outside for a touchdown.
Mike Smith, for all the criticism he's gotten for being too conservative, perhaps went too aggressive when he had Bryant attempt a 48-yard kick with 13 seconds left to play after previously missing a 22-yarder, instead of having Matt Bosher punt the ball away. It didn't matter in the end, as the Falcons were able to secure the win.
Nolan went to the well one too many times and it cost him, with his designed cornerback blitz allowing Vincent Jackson to fly by Thomas Decoud for a long completion on the half's opening drive, eventually leading to a Tampa Bay field goal.
Meanwhile, Koetter finally took advantage of Tampa Bay's last-ranked pass defense with a long pass to Jones for a touchdown.
Koetter wisely opened up passing game in second half and made key call on 3rd and 1 at Tampa Bay's 5-yard line, having Ryan toss the ball to Rodgers from the shotgun for him to run it in for a touchdown instead of trying to pound it inside. He kept a good mix of Turner and Rodgers on the ground while having Ryan make deep throws downfield.
On defense, Nolan kept the pressure on, notably dialing a cornerback blitz that worked to perfection in a quarter saw Tampa Bay held to just a field goal.
Questionable clock management at the end of the half lowers this grade, however, with Smith late to call a time out that ultimately cost the Falcons points.
On offense, Koetter reverted back to a Mike Mularkey-esque gameplan in the first quarter, testing Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense with a 1-2 punch of Turner and Rodgers while having Ryan dink-and-dunk up the field. It worked well until Koetter called a Rodgers slip screen on 3rd and 3 from inside Tampa Bay's 15-yard line instead of going for the end zone.
Defensively, Nolan's calls were no match for Freeman, who seemingly had the perfect play called every time.