By Dory LeBlanc
Both the Bucs and Falcons are in the midst of disappointing seasons with Tampa Bay grabbing their lone victory against the Dolphins last Monday night and Atlanta winning only one more contest than the Bucs entering Sunday's game.
One of the Falcon's two wins came against the Buccaneers on October 20th, a 31-23 final at the Georgia Dome.
The Bucs have been confident all week, with several players going as far as to say today's game at Raymond James Stadium was going to be revenge.
“We haven’t played the other two yet. They’re the first divisional opponent we’re getting a second shot at. We owe them,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “We went down there, man, they got a win on us. We owe them. They’re coming into our house, so we’ve got to get payback.”
McCoy and Co. got their payback to the tune of a 41-28 victory.
The divisional rivals each traded three-and-outs on their opening possessions, with McCoy stepping up and sacking Matt Ryan on back-to-back snaps to force Atlanta to punt it away after a productive start to their drive.
Despite the outcry of disdain for the Buccaneers' coaching staff by fans, running backs coach Ernest Byner has proven to be the the unsung hero this season, adequately preparing each back in his stable to be able to produce at a moment's notice.
When the Bucs' Pro Bowl RB Doug Martin went down with a shoulder injury, rookie Mike James stepped in, registering a 156 yard effort on the ground against the Seahawks. Last Monday night, James fractured his ankle, forcing Tampa Bay to go with newly-acquired Bobby Rainey in his place. Rainey, along with Brian Leonard have been a suitable one-two punch for the Bucs, and that continued against Atlanta on Sunday.
On the Bucs' second possession, Rainey and Leonard combined for 54 yards - including a direct snap to Leonard on third-and-three to pick up six yards and give the Bucs a fresh set of downs. After driving 73 yards and eating up just over seven minutes off the clock, Tampa Bay could only muster up three points on Rian Lindell's 30-yarder to give the Buccaneers a 3-0 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
The Falcons tied it up 2:53 into the second quarter, but not before McCoy registered his third sack of the game.
With the running game securely in place, the Bucs were able to open up the passing a bit on the ensuing drive, as Vincent Jackson made a spectacular one-hand catch to gain 47 yards and put Tampa Bay within striking distance once again. Unfortunately, Jamon Meredith, who played extremely well his past two starts in place of Carl Nicks, went down on the turf on the drive and needed to be replaced by Ted Larsen. On the next snap, Larsen was called for holding, negating a first down catch-and-run for Rainey, but the flag wasn't the drive-killer the Bucs have run into on their eight-game losing streak earlier this season; this time, the offense regrouped and put the penalty behind them as the second-year back out of Western Kentucky plowed through the Falcons' front seven on the next snap, gaining 43 yards and the score to put the home team up 10-3.
On the following kick off, special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt opted to attempt an onside kick - which the Bucs recovered, giving them the ball back in favorable field position to extend the lead with almost 10:00 left until the half. A pass interference call on Jackson in the end zone backed the Bucs up and forced them to attempt a field goal. Wannstedt went back to his bag of tricks however, and Michael Koenen (punter/holder/kick off duties) pulled in the ball and lobbed a poorly thrown pass at the end zone in the direction of Leonard. Luckily, Leonard was able to keep the Falcons defender from intercepting the ball and the Bucs turned possession over to Atlanta on downs.
The Bucs defense continued to put forth a stellar performance, forcing Ryan to throw an interception on the first play of the next drive as the Falcons' signal caller was hit on his arm by SLB Dekoda Watson as he threw, changing the trajectory, which MLB Mason Foster read perfectly as was able to jump in front of the intended target and return the ball 37 yards for the score to extend the lead to 17-3 with seven minutes remaining until halftime.
Just when you thought the offense would get a breather, Foster struck with another splash play, this time, upending Atlanta WR Roddy White and forcing the veteran to fumble the ball. Bucs safety Mark Barron dove on the loose ball, giving the Bucs possession once again.
After a failed attempt by Rainey at a pass to Jackson, Mike Glennon found Tiquan Underwood open for first-and-goal at the Falcons' three, and Rainey kept to using his legs on the next snap, rushing in for his second TD of the game and extending the Bucs' lead to 24-3 with 3:16 to go in the first half.
Atlanta was able to get three points closer after Matt Bryant drilled his second field goal of the game, a 49-yard attempt with less than a minute until the break. When the Bucs got the ball back, their drive was kept alive by Falcon penalties, but Tampa Bay couldn't capitalize as Lindell missed a 55-yard attempt as time expired.
When play resumed in the second half, the Falcons tried a little special teams trickery of their own, faking a punt and picking up the first down. The Bucs, playing without Foster who did not return in the third quarter after suffering a concussion, were able to force Atlanta into a third-and-out again, but the Falcons decided to go for it on fourth down, throwing an incomplete pass and giving the ball to the Bucs.
After a series of short-yardage gains, Tampa Bay was given a second chance on the drive after rookie Desmond Trufant was called for pass interference, keeping the possession alive. Two plays later, Glennon unleashed a 53-yard bomb to Jackson, giving the Bucs first-and-goal at the four. Rainey notched his third TD of the afternoon on the next play, a four-yard reception to give the Bucs a 31-6 lead.
The Bucs continued with productive play in all three phases as Dekoda Watson blocked Atlanta's punt on their next drive, giving the offense a short field to work with. From the 20, Rainey added 14 yards and FB Erik Lorig grabbed a four-yard catch to keep the chains moving before Glennon found Jackson once again in the end zone to extend Tampa Bay's lead to 38-6.
Atlanta took advantage of a Bucs rookie making a mistake and was able to score their first TD of the game late in the third as CB Johnthan Banks held back on a tackle, probably assuming Mark Barron had Harry Douglas covered, excpet Barron whiffed on the tackle, and without back up, Douglas was able to take the ball 80 yards for the touchdown to make it 38-13.
As time was running out in the third and the clock began to tick down in the fourth, the Bucs couldn't get anything going offensively, as Osi Umenyiora sacked Glennon to ensure the drive stalled at the Bucs' 27.
On second-and-nine, Ryan's pass attempt across the middle intended Douglas was intercepted by Goldson at Tampa Bay's 45, giving the offense another shot to put up more points.
Lindell answered, making a 46-yard FG to cap off the nine-play, 27 yard drive and putting the game out of reach for the Falcons at 41-13.
However, as well as the Bucs defense had been playing all afternoon, certain facets starting to show signs of letting up, as Ryan found a wide-open Antone Smith who picked up a 50-yard TD as no one was in the vicinity of the running back to attempt to bring him down. The Bucs showed more signs of a breakdown as Gonzalez easily converted the 2-point conversion, with not a Buc defender in sight to narrow the gap to 41-21 with 5:22 remaining in the ballgame.
The Bucs recovered Atlanta's onside kick attempt, but backup Dan Orlovsky, playing for Glennon, couldn't muster up much and the Bucs punted it back to the Falcons.
Atlanta was gifted several opportunities on the following drive, due largely to two roughing-the-passer penalties on McCoy - the second coming on 3rd & goal, which gave the Falcons a fresh set of downs as time ticked closer to the 2:00 warning. The ultimate result was an overturned fumble call by official review, which gave the Falcons a TD, not a fumble, and put the visitors 13 points away from the Buccaneers with 1:44 yet to play.
After briefly exiting the game after completing 20-of-23 (87-percent) passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception, Glennon returned on the Bucs' final drive after Jackson recovered Atlanta's onside kick attempt. The Falcons, playing with all the determination of a team desperately trying to pull out a monster comeback, tightened its coverage and refused to allow the Bucs to extend the lead, but in turn, the Buccaneers special teams and defense refused to allow the Falcons to get any closer than 41-28 as the game ended with the Falcons picking up one yard on the punt return.
Next Up: The Bucs travel to Detroit next Sunday to take on the Lions, who sit atop the NFC North's leaderboard. Coverage begins at 9am as Tom Krasniqi hosts the Floor & Decor Countdown To Kickoff, followed by the Auto-Owners Insurance Pre-Game Show with Ronnie Lane and Anthony Becht at 10:30.