The Atlanta Falcons (13-3) suffered their first home loss of the season this afternoon as they fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) 22-17. Although it came as a surprise to some fans, the Falcons' starters played the entire way in a game whose outcome could not have any impact on Atlanta's position as the NFC's top playoff seed.
Atlanta was sluggish in a first half that was highlighted by a blocked punt by the Bucs, who led 16-3 at intermission. Atlanta cashed in on an Asante Samuel interception in the third quarter with a Michael Turner touchdown run to cut the lead to 16-10, but Tampa Bay answered Turner's score with a four-play, 80-yard drive that extended the Tampa lead back to double digits at 22-10.
Atlanta played well in the fourth quarter and had the ball with a chance to drive for the winning score, but the Bucs were able to make some key stops on defense to help preserve their 22-17 win.
Let's take a look at the final game grades for the Falcons.
Matt Ryan: B-
Ryan wasn't spectacular (28-of-44, 238 yards, one touchdown), but he was under duress most of the day from an aggressive Tampa Bay defensive front. The Bucs nearly picked Ryan off three times, and really had the Falcons' quarterback out of his rhythm in the second and third quarters.
Ryan's most impressive sequence was the nine-play, 52-yard touchdown drive that he engineered to bring the Falcons within one score in the fourth quarter. Ryan finished that drive by connecting with Harry Douglas for a seven-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal.
Ryan avoided a C+ overall grade because of the way he played in the fourth quarter, and the concession I'm granting him in recognition of the constant pressure he had to deal with this afternoon.
Michael Turner: B
Turner only carried the ball six times for 18 yards, but he got the crowd back into the game when he gained 17 of those yards on a thundering touchdown run in the third quarter. The burst that Turner displayed on that run has a lot of Falcons fans hoping that Turner's best is yet to come in the playoffs.
Jacquizz Rodgers: B
The Falcons wanted to throw against the Bucs, so like Turner, Rodgers did not get many opportunities to run the ball (five carries, 28 yards). Rodgers had a bigger role in the passing game, catching eight passes for 50 yards.
Roddy White: C+
White finished with pretty pedestrian numbers (five receptions, 42 yards), and was not much a factor at all in the second half. To his credit, he was playing on a sore knee. White displayed good awareness when he became a defender by batting a ball away from a Buccaneers corner on Atlanta's final drive.
Julio Jones: C+
Like White, Jones had a quiet day (three receptions, 56 yards) aside from picking up a big gain on a wide receiver screen play early in the game. Julio Jones and Matt Ryan did not appear to be on the same page in the third quarter when Ryan tried to hit Jones on a short hitch route that was nearly intercepted by E.J. Biggers.
Harry Douglas: B-
Douglas caught the Falcons' only receiving touchdown of the day and made his presence felt on special teams with a couple of nice punt returns as well. Falcons fans will certainly welcome more contributions from Douglas in the playoffs.
Tony Gonzalez: C+
Like the rest of the Falcons' usual suspects, Gonzalez wasn't much a factor today (five receptions, 41 yards). Ryan went to him in an effort to move the chains on Atlanta's last offensive possession, but Tampa safety Mark Barron made a nice play on the ball.
Sam Baker: B-
Baker held his own on the outside for most of the afternoon, although he did benefit from the absence of Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn like he did in the Week 12 meeting between these teams. He continued to be effective blocking for the Falcons' screen game.
Peter Konz: D
Another long game for the rookie from Wisconsin. Konz had a very difficult time with the Bucs' athletic interior defensive line. He was beaten badly inside on a stunt by Tampa defensive end Da'Quan Bowers,and generally he was the main culprit when the Bucs were able to get in Matt Ryan's face.
Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Tyson Clabo: C+
The rest of the Falcons' offensive line played like their skill position counterparts: average. The Falcons didn't seek to establish much of a ground game, and aside from springing Turner on his touchdown run there weren't many highlights up front for Atlanta today.
John Abraham: B-
For awhile Abraham looked like he was the only Falcons player who came to play in this game. He played a key role in Tampa having to settle for field goals on two of their first-half drives as he was able to bat a couple of Josh Freeman's passes down. Although Abraham only finished with one credited tackle, his injury status will be the subject of a lot of discussion over the next two weeks.
Kroy Biermann: C
Lackluster day for Biermann as he couldn't generate much pressure on Freeman and only finished with two tackles.
Corey Peters, Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux, and Vance Walker: C-
The Falcons gave up 142 yards on 28 carries to Tampa rookie running back Doug Martin. The interior defensive line didn't get much penetration up front, and the Bucs were able to spring Martin for a couple of long gains.
Sean Weatherspoon: C+
Weatherspoon led the team in tackles with eight, and he had big hits on Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin in pass coverage. Those hits were enough to separate Weatherspoon from his linebacking mates.
Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent: C
Nicholas had six tackles, while Dent finished with three. You have probably noticed a theme by now. This group had an average effort against the run, as Doug Martin got his revenge after being held below 100 yards in Week 12 by Atlanta. Like their teammates on the defensive line, Weatherspoon, Nicholas and Dent have to step up their game against the run if this team wants to win in two weeks.
Asante Samuel: B
Samuel gets high marks for his third-quarter interception that set up Michael Turner's touchdown run. Samuel played through a nagging shoulder injury to anchor a Falcons' defensive backfield that took a hit when Dunta Robinson was injured early in the first quarter.
Dominique Franks: C+
Franks did a decent job filling in for Dunta Robinson at corner, but as expected he did give up a few plays when the Bucs targeted him in the passing game.
Robert McClain: C+
In an unusual occurrence, McClain didn't do much to stand out in this game other than assisting Sean Weatherspoon with an open-field tackle on Tiquan Underwood that forced the Bucs to kick a field goal in the first half.
Thomas DeCoud: C-
DeCoud had two critical missed tackles on Tampa Bay's most impressive drive of the game in the third quarter when they answered Michael Turner's touchdown run. DeCoud had really improved his tackling this year, but he regressed today.
Chris Hope: C
Solid job filling in for William Moore, but nothing worthy of anything higher than a "C".
Game Grade: D-
The special teams unit made a huge blunder in the second quarter when a low snap on a punt led to Matt Bosher's kick being blocked. That is the kind of error that could doom the Falcons in the playoffs. Harry Douglas looked good as a punt returner, but that is not enough to make up for the blown assignments (poor snap by Josh Harris, sloppy protection by Michael Palmer) that led to the blocked punt.
Game Grade: B-
Despite the injuries to John Abraham and Dunta Robinson, I'm not going to knock Mike Smith for playing his starters. Mike Smith has won a lot of games for Atlanta over the past five years, and he knows his team better than anyone in the media. It should be noted that you didn't hear of any objection from Atlanta's veteran players when Smith announced that his starters would play. Smith felt the Falcons needed to stick to their routine, and we will find out if he made the right call in two weeks.
Dirk Koetter seemed to play things pretty close to his vest with the offensive play-calling, and Mike Nolan wasn't overly aggressive on defense either.