After struggling for most of the game, Matt Ryan led yet another fourth-quarter, game-winning touchdown drive as the Atlanta Falcons took down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time this year, 28-24.
In their Week 13 meeting, the Falcons defense won the game on a goal-line stand. This time, they forced an interception following Ryan's go-ahead touchdown.
After having an interception overturned earlier in the game, Brent Grimes came away with the clinching pick. He may not be getting much national attention, but he is clearly one of the top corners around.
The key play in the game came early in the fourth.
After the Bucs used a halfback pass to take a 24-14 lead, Eric Weems ran the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.
Weems has come close to breaking one the past few weeks, and it was only a matter of time before he did it. It was the longest return in Falcons history and completely changed the momentum of the game.
Tampa went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Falcons went 67 yards on 10 plays to take the lead.
Ryan did not have it easy. He completed only half of his 36 pass attempts and threw two interceptions, although one of those was not his fault.
There had been a college game played at Raymond James Stadium's grass surface Saturday, and players were slipping all game. On Ryan's second interception, Roddy White was one of those players, and Ryan's pass went right into the waiting arms of a Tampa Bay defender.
Ryan did have two touchdowns in the game as well, one coming on a catch-and-run to Ovie Mughelli and the other being the game-winner to Michael Jenkins.
Tampa had been susceptible to the run this year, but it did a good job of bottling up Michael Turner, who finished with 88 yards on 24 carries. He also scored a touchdown.
Atlanta, on the other hand, had been very stout against the run until it allowed the Buccaneers to gain 151 yards on the ground. LeGarrette Blount led the way for Tampa with 103 yards and a touchdown on 20 rushes.
Josh Freeman, like Ryan, had a hard time getting it going, completing 19 of 38 passes for 181 yards plus a touchdown and the interception to Grimes. The Falcons did a good job of getting pressure on Freeman, although he was often able to elude pass-rushers and was sacked just once.
The Falcons were shorthanded with Jason Snelling out, and at times it was apparent they missed the running back. When Turner had to come out to get breathers throughout the day, Atlanta had no one to run it with, making it one-dimensional at those times.
Snelling is at his best as a receiver coming out of the backfield. Mughelli picked up the slack in that department by catching three balls for 32 yards.
His touchdown grab was actually set up by an incomplete pass two plays earlier.
Harry Douglas got behind the coverage and was open in the end zone. Ryan overthrew the wide receiver, but the play loosened up the defense and allowed Mughelli to have a lot of room underneath. He caught a short pass and ran 17 yards for a touchdown.
The win goes to the Falcons, but the Buccaneers did everything they could to win. They ran more plays, won time of possession and out-gained Atlanta.
It came down to late-game plays, an area Falcons coach Mike Smith puts an emphasis on, and Atlanta made them whereas Tampa did not. The Bucs also had some killer penalties late in the fourth.
This is a very good win for the Falcons.
They clearly did not play their best ball against a tough team in a hostile environment, yet came away victorious to stay on top of the NFC and remain a game ahead of New Orleans in their division.
They will again be on the road next week when they take on Carolina—a game that looks easy on paper.
It is a division game however, and they will need to avoid a letdown.
It's also a concern that Tony Gonzalez hurt his ankle late in the game. When there is word on the extent of the injury, an update will be provided here.
The Falcons have now won six straight games for the first time since their 1998 Super Bowl run and, at 10-2, have the No. 1 seed in their grasp as long as they take care of business these final four weeks.