They were nearly right.
It was an extremely hard fought game; a "dogfight" as quarterback Josh Freeman called it afterwards.
But even though the Bucs held a six-point fourth quarter lead at one point, it wasn't enough as the Falcons snapped Tampa Bay's four-game win streak with a 24-23 victory and improved to 10-1 in the process.
With the win today, the Falcons have all but wrapped up the NFC South and that means the 6-5 Bucs now have to focus on that final wildcard spot if they want to make the postseason.
The Bucs had plenty of chances to really stick it to the Falcons but missed opportunities killed them and they left at least eight points on the field.
Down 10-7, the Bucs ran a trick play that saw Mike Williams toss a near-touchdown to Vincent Jackson. That play got the Bucs down to the Falcons' 3, but they could not punch it in and had to settle for a short Connor Barth field goal.
In the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay was up by three when cornerback E.J. Biggers destroyed quarterback Matt Ryan and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. But instead of stepping on the Falcons' throat, the Bucs faltered on offense and once again had to settle for three points from Barth.
In a game decided by one point, those lost points proved huge and doomed Tampa Bay.
Also killing Tampa Bay was its ineffective pass rush and bad secondary play. Ryan had plenty of time to drop back and pick apart Tampa Bay's defensive backs. The Falcons' signal caller finished 26-of-32 for 353 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Bucs' young cornerback trio of cornerbacks were no match for Roddy White and Julio Jones, who had six catches for 147 yards and one touchdown after being questionable to play all week.
For the Bucs, Freeman streak of six games with at least two touchdown passes was snapped as he was held without a touchdown for the first time all season. Freeman finished with 19-of-30 for 256 yards.
The scoring came for rookie running back Doug Martin, who had two touchdown runs, but he bottled up by Atlanta's defense; Martin only had 50 yards on 21 carries.
Vincent Jackson continued his excellent play with 96 yards on five catches. Tiquan Underwood emerged as a legit slot receiver and was targeted nine times, catching five balls for 77 yards. And tight end Dallas Clark came up with some key third down grabs and finished with 65 yards on four receptions.
Next up for the Bucs is a trip out West to take on Peyton Manning and the 8-3 Denver Broncos, who have won six straight games.Tags: Atlanta Falcons, Doug Martin, Football, Josh Freeman, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, NFL, Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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