Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Falcons' Win Epitomizes Season
It could not have been a more fitting end for the resilient Falcons. Samuel's injured shoulder prevented him from hauling in two interceptions earlier in the game, but he came through when it mattered most.
So do the Atlanta Falcons in 2012.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goals on Sunday. The normally clutch kicker shanked a go-ahead field goal from a measly 22 yards at the end of the first half. Then in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Bryant missed again. The Falcons were leading by a single point when Bryant's kick went wide.
Given good field position and needing only a field goal to win, the Buccaneers had all the momentum as the game came to a close. But like they did for Matt Ryan the week before, Atlanta's defense stiffened with the game on the line and secured the win.
That has been a staple of the Atlanta Falcons' 2012 campaign. When one fails, the rest of the team picks him up.
Coach Mike Smith once referred to Matt Ryan as "a tough Irishman." That toughness flows through the entire team and clearly shined through in Tampa Bay.
Asante Samuel, Sean Weatherspoon, and Julio Jones have all been nursing injuries. Knowing the importance of the game, all three took the field against the Buccaneers and played major roles in the victory.
Weatherspoon and Samuel seemed to be everywhere, with the former wrapping up runners that had broken away in his absence, and the latter providing pretty good coverage for a one-armed man.
On the other side of the ball, Julio Jones was having a career day, hauling in six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown. All this despite a gimpy ankle.
And while the Falcons may be physically tough, it is their mental toughness that has made them hard to beat in 2012. Six fourth-quarter comebacks prove that. Even in their lone loss, the Falcons refused to let their failures overwhelm them. Instead, they continued fighting until the clock ran out.
Hard Road Ahead
The Atlanta Falcons face stiff competition long before the playoffs arrive. Thursday they will face an angry New Orleans Saints team on a short week. They will also catch the New York Giants at probably the worst time in two weeks.
The Falcons' future is cloudy, both the finish of the regular season and the playoffs. The only certainty is that they will not go quietly. There will be neither excuses nor surrender.
Atlanta is simply a tough team that plays to the final whistle.
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