Running Back Devonta Freeman had 194 all-purpose yards, including 126 rushing yards & his first 100 yard game since September 24th, leading the Atlanta Falcons (9-5) to a 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) on Monday Night. The loss , which was the Bucs' fourth in a row, came down a closing seconds 54 yard field goal attempt, which Kicker Patrick Murray missed wide right.
The game ended with both quarterbacks playing error-free football & with Bucs Quarterback Jameis Winston throwing for 299 yards three touchdowns & finishing the game with a season-high 130 quarterback rating.
Tampa Bay won the toss but elected to start on defense. And the Falcons opening drive of the game started on their own 36 yard line, but after an incomplete pass intended for Wide Receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons were forced to punt.
The Bucs attempted two passes on their first possession after a first down run, with the last one on third down gaining just one yard, meaning Tampa Bay, like the Falcons went three & out on their first possession.
On the Falcons' second possession, Atlanta grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 9 play 62 yard drive that ended with Ryan hitting Wide Receiver Justin Hardy with a six yard touchdown pass. The touchdown came on the Falcons second third down conversion of the drive but unfortunately came when the Bucs had just 10 players on defense & Head Coach Dirk Koetter running on the sidelines, frantically trying to call a timeout.
The Bucs trailing by seven but like Atlanta, turned their second possession into seven points. Helped by a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Falcons, when Bucs Tight End Cameron Brate was hit in his head while trying to making a sliding catch, Tampa Bay used a familiar play to get their tying touchdown. After that penalty & a crucial third down conversion on a hard run by Running Back Peyton Barber, starting in place of Doug Martin, the Bucs, faced with a third & one, decided to pass. And Winston hit Tight End OJ Howard with a play action rollout back-side tight end pass, which Howard grabbed, sprinted down the left side & dove into the endzone for Howard's sixth touchdown of his rookie season. Howard left the game after the touchdown with an ankle injury & did not return.
Following the Bucs' first points of the game, Atlanta didn't waste any time getting the lead back. Mainly with plays from Running Back Devonta Freeman, including a 15 yard run plus a 29 yard catch & run, the Falcons were set-up for a rushing attempt for a touchdown for Freeman. But facing a second & goal from the one, Freeman, before reaching the endzone, fumbled, which was recovered in the endzone by Falcons' back-up Tight End Levine Toilolo, making the score 14-7.
Down seven, Tampa Bay put together a drive to answer the Falcons touchdown. But after a successful challenge by the Falcons on a play that look like a long catch & run by Bucs' Running Back Charles Sims but also featured another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Atlanta, Tampa Bay was working its way down the field & into Falcons' territory. But just when you thought the Bucs were ready to tie the score, they committed the games first turnover, when Barber fumbled inside the Falcons 10 yard line.
After the fumble, the Falcons moved the ball into Tampa Bay territory but their drive stalled at the Bucs 39 yard line. Fortunately for Atlanta, they have one of league's more reliable kickers & Matt Bryant hit a 57 yard field goal to make it a 10 point lead.
The half ended with that 10 point lead for Atlanta & in that first half, the team statistics were comparable between the two teams including first downs & third down conversions. The Falcons, because of the number of possessions & a takeaway, outgained the Bucs 245-159. After neither team scored on their first chance with the ball in the second half, Tampa Bay took over on their own 47 yard line & with just three plays, they scored the first touchdown of the second half when Wide Receiver Mike Evans made an acrobatic 42 yard touchdown catch in the endzone, over a Falcons defensive back.
Leading by three, Atlanta on some nifty running fron Ryan & three third down conversions, were able to move back into Bucs' territory. But after the drive stalled, the usually reliable Bryant had his 33 yard fied goal attempt blocked by Bucs Defensive End Will Gholston. The blocked field goal gave the Bucs the ball back, which they kept as the game entered the fourth quarter but were unable to move the ball deep into Falcons territory. And the Bucs punted the ball back to Atlanta & pushed them inside the Falcons 20. But the Falcons responded with the longest scoring drive of the game, a 10 play 87 yard touchdown drive, that ended with Freeman busting through the Bucs front seven, then making a juke on Bucs Safety Keith Tandy in the secondary for a 32 yard touchdown, making the game 24-14.
With just under eight minutes left & trailing by 10, the Bucs put together their own 10 play touchdown drive, added by 63 passing yards on the drive by Winston & ending when he hit Wide Receiver Adam Humphries for a 16 yard touchdown catch.
On the next possession, with exactly four minutes left, the Falcons were able to kill nearly three minutes but still had to punt the ball away to the Bucs. The Buc, after a 19 yard return from Humphries, moved the ball quickly into Atlanta territory on a combination of completions from Winston to Brate & Wide Receiver Freddie Martino. And with seconds left were set-up to tie the game but Murray missed the long 54 yard field goal as time expired.
The halftime ceremony included the Bucs unveiling Jon Gruden's name in the team's Ring Of Honor. The former Bucs head coach was in attendance, along with players from the 2002 team, winners of Super Bowl XXXVII, their only Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
The Bucs try to end their four game losing streak when they head to Charlotte on Christmas Eve to take on the Carolina Panthers. Coverage begins with the pre-game show at 10:30AM on 98 Rock, with kickoff at 1PM.