Heading into a game against the league’s best run defense is not the time you would expect a team to break out a heavy run package. But that’s just what the Atlanta Falcons did Sunday on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seven of Atlanta’s first 11 plays were runs, and the Falcons called 23 run plays against a team that allowed just 81.8 yards per game during the first 11 games of the season.
"We felt like we needed to try it,” said Smith in his postgame press conference. “And we felt like we could, too."
The Falcons gained just 79 yards on the ground Sunday, but they scored two rushing touchdowns in their 24-23 win over the Buccaneers.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completed just over 81 percent of his passes and for the fourth time in a row threw for more than 300 yards. He tossed an 80-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Julio Jones and also orchestrated a six-play, 64-yard touchdown drive that ended with 2:33 to play in the fourth quarter and gave the Falcons the lead for good.
And that, once again, was the story from Atlanta’s win this week. The Falcons won, but it was an extremely close game.
Take away three big wins against the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Diego Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles, and a loss to the New Orleans Saints, and the Falcons have posted seven wins by seven points or fewer.
Atlanta won those seven games by an average of just 4.14 points, and many have come against teams with subpar records. Only the Denver game in Week 2 and Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay have come over teams in the playoff hunt.
Even though the Falcons have been winning, they’ve been winning tight games against teams they should have been beating handily. But that wasn’t the case Sunday against the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay had won each of its last four games and five of its last six and led the NFC in points scored per game. The Buccaneers look every bit the playoff team lately with a balanced offensive attack and a tough run defense.
For Atlanta to fight hard to come from behind and win, especially in a hostile environment, shows that Atlanta is able to win in any situation and against teams weak or strong.
There are still issues the Falcons will have to address. Atlanta was dismal in short-yardage situations, and running back Michael Turner averaged just 1.3 yards per carry on the day. Backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers carried the ball 10 times and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, possibly creating a running back controversy.
What the Falcons don’t have is a passing controversy. Ryan bounced back from an off day in Week 11 and shined, using his three-headed receiving monster of Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to churn yardage.
Now they must prove that Atlanta is a worth No. 1 seed candidate for the NFC. The Falcons must prepare for the Saints on a short week. In just over 100 hours, the Falcons must turn around and host New Orleans on Thursday night.