The Falcons are on a roll! They’ve won three straight after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-32. Too bad they waited until the end of the season to go on this tear. It was turned out to be a seesaw battle that should have been a route; the course of the game has been a prime example of the Atlanta season that finishes at 7-9 and in second place.
The Falcons offense struggled early and often as did the defense that saw the Bucs run up a 17-0 lead with 46 seconds to go in the first half. Surprisingly the game turned around in 26 seconds after Jameis Winston’s second touchdown pass of the day. With 46 seconds to go in the half Mat Ryan went 5-of-5 in 26 seconds to score as he hit Julio Jones from 19 yards out to make the score 17-7.
Matt Ryan had a complete day for the Falcons as not only did he throw for 378 yards and two scores he did something that a QB on that kind of roll does – he caught a touchdown pass. Yep, after driving the team down to the Tampa Bay 5-yard line the Falcons came out in a wildcat formation with both Ryan and Mohamed Sanu under center. Sanu took the snap and while everyone was looking for him to run he stopped and threw a nice spiral to Ryan as he crossed the goal line. Tevin Coleman got in the act later in the quarter running for a score from 23 yards out as the running game again posted another 100-yard game. By the end of the third quarter the Falcons were ahead 24-20.
With 10:51 to go in the game the Falcons extended their lead to 31-20 as Ryan hit Calvin Ridley from seven yards out to set a NFL rookie record of 10 touchdown passes. But alas this is Atlanta that we’re talking about.
Winston is one of those folks who are easy to throw under the bus. His personal conduct off field would usually disqualify someone from the chance to play the game at this level. Because of his natural talent he is given one chance after the other. As a football purist you admire the talent but as a human being you despise his existence. Sunday his talent was on display once again as he was up to the challenge of going toe-to-to against Ryan, one of the pillars of the league.
It didn’t take long for the Buccaneers’ QB to get the team back in the game as he drove the team the length of the field in 2:42 hitting Mike Evans from 10 yards out to make the score 31-26, failing on a two-point conversion.
Later in the fourth quarter Ryan threw an ill-advised pass deep in Atlanta territory that was picked off by Andrew Adams. To play later Winston hit from 19 yards out and 5:10 to play to take a 32-31 lead. Once again Tampa Bay was unable to convert the two-point conversion.
Ryan took control of the game from here and mixing passes with runs by Brian Hill was able to drive deep into Tampa Bay territory including converting on third and long hitting Jones over the middle to give the Falcons an first down on the Tampa Bay 16. Atlanta was able to run the clock down to four seconds before Matt Bryant came out and kicked the game-winning 37-yard field goal making the final score 34-32.
The Falcons finish the season 7-9 and in sole possession of second place. The game represented much of the team’s seasons with too many highs and lows and little consistency that made many a Falcons’ fan pull their hair out. Now it’s time to sit back, reflect and wonder who’s going to play the Super Bowl in your house since you didn’t qualify.
– Dave Weinthal