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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs See Another One Slip Away

A 27-17 loss to Atlanta on Sunday marked the fifth game that Tampa Bay has lost after taking a fourth quarter lead…QB Josh McCown threw for 300 yards and two TDs in his return to the lineup

Last time it got away from them early. This time it slipped away late. Both ways hurt.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped to 1-8 on the season Sunday with a 27-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. That gave Atlanta a sweep of the two-game series, following a 56-14 decision in Atlanta in Week Three. While that latter game was out of reach by halftime, Sunday's game marked the fifth time this season that the Buccaneers lost after having a lead at some point in the fourth quarter.

"One-and-eight," said QB Josh McCown, who was still emotional 30 minutes after the game's conclusion. "One-and-eight. You want to show your teammates and the coaches and the fans and your family and everybody that you're better than that, and it just hurts. We lost, and as the quarterback it starts with me. It's disappointing.

"This game, you go prepare with the guys, and they grind, and they put the time in, and you work so hard. You're out there for each other, and when you walk off, when you come up short week after week, that's what hurts."

McCown, the 12th-year veteran who signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in March and was the opening-day starter, returned to the lineup on Sunday and threw for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 27-of-43 passing. His one-yard scoring toss to rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins gave the Buccaneers a 17-16 lead two plays into the fourth quarter. However, the Falcons scored the next 11 points and an abortive comeback attempt by the home team died when an apparent touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson was rendered moot with two minutes to play.

The pass in question won't be found in the official play-by-play because the officials whistled the play dead after the snap and about the time McCown was throwing the football. The whistle came in order to allow a replay review of the previous snap, in which a deflected pass in the end zone was ruled incomplete. After review, it was changed to an interception by Dwight Lowery, effectively ending the game. The Bucs had been trying to complete a do-or-die 80-yard drive that included a 34-yard catch by rookie WR Mike Evans on third-and-20 from the Tampa Bay 10-yard line and another toe-tapping 23-yard sideline grab by Evans at the Falcons' four. Both plays were initially ruled in the Falcons' favor but overturned upon replay challenges by the Buccaneers.

Evans finished with his second straight 100-yard game, catching seven passes for 125 yards and a score. The Buccaneers' trio of 6-5 pass-catchers – Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and veteran WR Vincent Jackson – combined for 20 catches, 230 yards and two TDs.

"There were some questionable calls but we've got to keep playing through," said Evans. "We did well as an offense, but it was about us beating ourselves."

The Buccaneers gained 373 yards to the Falcons' 322 and won the time-of-possession battle – if barely – for just the second time all year. However, Atlanta had the game's only three takeaways and the Buccaneers' struggles on third down on defense continued. The Falcons converted six of 12 third-down tries, including four that needed seven or more yards to be successful.

"It's tough man. We're saying the same thing every week. We've got to figure out a way to win tight games. It's the NFL and every game is tight. It's coming down to a couple plays at the end of the game and we've got to figure out a way to make those plays and come out with a 'W' because it's tough to lose like this all the time. One or two things don't go your way and instead of celebrating we're sitting here talking about what we should have done."

In addition, there were three critical third-down plays on which the Buccaneers appeared to force an incompletion only to have the play nullified by a penalty, and those three plays represented an 11-point swing on the scoreboard. On Atlanta's first drive of the game, CB Leonard Johnson broke up a third-down pass in the end zone intended for WR Harry Douglas but was flagged for pass interference. The Falcons presumably would have kicked a field goal on fourth down from the five-yard line; instead, it was first-and-goal at the one and Steven Jackson scored on a one-yard run two plays later. In the second quarter, Falcons QB Matt Ryan threw incomplete deep down the sideline in WR Roddy White's direction but CB Crezdon Butler drew an illegal contact penalty, extending what would become a field goal drive. And in the fourth quarter CB Johnthan Banks drew an illegal contact call on third-and-goal from the six-yard line near the right front pylon while Butler was successfully defending a pass intended for Jones on the far side of the field.

The Buccaneers committed 10 penalties on the afternoon, to five for the Falcons.

"It's really frustrating," said DT Gerald McCoy, who saw constant double-teaming from Atlanta's front, which allowed only one sack of Ryan, by DT Clinton McDonald. "You can't think of a reason behind it. It all comes down to just doing it. We've just got to do it. I don't know man, I don't know. I know we're going to keep going.

"We've got to be more disciplined, because a lot of points in the game we were at because of penalties. We were a very undisciplined team, very undisciplined team."

Ryan completed 20 of 31 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown. He got good support from the Falcons' running game, led by Jackson's 81 yards on 16 carries. WR Julio Jones was Ryan's top target, catching eight passes for 119 yards, though it was Roddy White that caught the go-ahead five-yard score after Banks' penalty. Lavonte David led the Bucs with 14 tackles, marking the third time he has reached that mark this season.

WR Marcus Thigpen set up the Buccaneers' fourth-quarter touchdown with a 53-yard punt return, the Bucs' longest of the season, and rookie K Patrick Murray hit a 51-yard field goal for the game's first points. However, for the second week in a row, special teams were an advantage for the Buccaneers' opponent. Falcons WR Devin Hester had a 52-yard kickoff return just before halftime to set up a go-ahead field goal; Falcons K Matt Bryant made all four of his field goal tries; and Bucs punter Michael Koenen averaged just 30.3 yards on three punts.

The Bucs scored on the game's opening possession, though that encouraging drive eventually fizzled out before reaching the red zone, thanks in part to the first of a rash of costly penalties in the first half. Rainey got the Bucs' down to the 25 on an impressive catch-and-run on third-and-10, but the home team eventually had to settle for Murray's 51-yard field goal. The Falcons answered on their opening possession, but with seven points. Johnson's third-down pass breakup in the end zone seemed to force the Falcons into a field goal, but he was flagged for pass interference and the Falcons capitalized on Jackson's one-yard touchdown run.

Atlanta made it 10-3 on Bryant's 37-yard field goal after Hester dropped a sure touchdown pass the play before, but the Bucs tied it on Evans' leaping 22-yard catch over CB Robert Alford on third-and-five in the final minute of the half. Thanks to the long kickoff return to Hester, the Falcons were able to snatch the lead back on a Bryant's 43-yarder as the first half expired.

In many ways, the first half was as even as the score indicated. The Bucs might have been able to grab the lead but for the aforementioned penalties, two of which extended Atlanta scoring drives, and a continued difficulty getting off the field on long third downs. Atlanta converted four of six third-down tries in the half, with three of them from seven yards or farther. The Bucs actually had the yardage edge at the break, 182-155.

Atlanta took the first drive of the second half into Buccaneer territory and doubled its lead on Bryant's third field goal. The Bucs' first possession also reached into enemy turf but ended in the game's first turnover, a fumble by rookie RB Charles Sims that the Falcons' Stanley Maponga recovered at the 35.

The Bucs got the lead back early in the fourth quarter on a play-action one-yard TD pass from McCown to Seferian-Jenkins. That play came after the third straight third-and-one conversion by a power running package featuring RB Mike James, and it was the same group on the field that ran the play-action fake. The Bucs took a one-point lead on the PAT but then had to kick off from their 20 due to a celebration penalty on Seferian-Jenkins. With the resulting good field position, Atlanta drove for the answering score and added a two-point conversion to go up 24-17. A short Koenen punt minutes later led to Bryant's fourth field goal.

At the start of the game, the Bucs came out throwing, with McCown dropping back on the first four snaps of the game. The third was a seven-yard completion to Jackson third-and-six and the fourth was a nine-yarder that set up second-and-one at the 40, but a nice draw play to Rainey was erased by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Jackson made a fantastic leaping sideline catch and was upended in midair by Dezmen Southward. Jackson landed on his back near the sideline and held on, a fact confirmed when Atlanta challenged the play and failed. After a tough run up the gut by Mike James on third-and-one, the Bucs gained a new set of downs on the Atlanta 36 on a defensive holding flag. Two incompletions then left the Bucs in a third-and-10 but Bobby Rainey made a nifty run on a screen pass to get a first down at the Falcons' 25. A holding penalty and a failed run pushed the Bucs back to the 40, and McCown's scramble on third-and-25 at least got the ball to the Falcons' 33. Murray made the drive count, banging home a 51-yard field goal.

Photos from the first half of Buccaneers vs. Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

Atlanta got its drive going with two rugged runs by 240-pound tailback Steven Jackson, good for a combined 17 yards. Three plays later, Jackson got it again on third-and-one and easily powered up the middle for four yards to cross midfield. Banks caught up to a deep pass intended for Jones on the next play and just broke it up at the goal line, but a pass out to White in the right flat moved the sticks again. Ryan then threw downfield to White for 21 to the Bucs' 16. On third-and-five, CB Leonard Johnson appeared to break up a pass in the end zone but was called for pass interference, making it first-and-goal at the one. Jackson ran it in for the touchdown to give the Falcons the lead.

Jackson caught another nifty sideline pass with CB Desmond Trufant draped all over him to set up a third-and-three but the officials threw and then picked up a flag on a third-down completion and the Bucs had to punt for the first time.

The Falcons' second drive started at their own 39 but went backward on a first-down holding call. A perfectly-defended screen pass two plays later put Atlanta into a third-and-15 but the drive was preserved by an illegal-contact call on CB Crezdon Butler on an incompletion. Ryan then found White for a gain of eight on third-and-four to get the ball back into Bucs territory. The next third down needed 12 yards from the Bucs' 49, and Ryan somehow got a pass between Lavonte David and Johnthan Banks to White, who broke free and darted up the field for a gain of 39. From first-and-goal at the 10, the Falcons lost five yards on a false start and seven more on a sack by McDonald. On third-and-goal from the 19, Hester broke free and Ryan hit him wide open in the end zone, but Hester dropped it. The Falcons settled for Matt Bryant's 37-yard field goal.

After a touchback, the Bucs faced a third-and-two from their 28 and got it on a rollout pass to Jackson that got six yards. The next third-and-two came from the Bucs' 41, and this time Jackson couldn't quite pull in a leaping grab, leading to another Buc punt. Unfortunately, Michael Koenen didn't hit this one well and it was downed at the Falcons' 35.

An end-around to Hester didn't work and Ryan was forced to scramble for two yards on second down. This time the Bucs got off the field when Ryan was hurried by Jacquies Smith and was off-target in Hester's direction. The resulting punt was fair caught at the Bucs' 14.

Photos from the second half of Buccaneers vs. Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

An 11-yard scramble by McCown and a toe-tapping sideline catch by Seferian-Jenkins for 13 yards got the Bucs to their 38 at the two-minute warning. Two plays later, McCown had time to throw and found Jackson on a crossing route for 19 yards. A 16-yard sideline grab by Evans made it first-and-10 at the Falcons' 27, and three plays later McCown looked to the rookie again, throwing him a jump ball that he caught over CB Robert Alford. Murray's extra point tied the game at 10-10 with 46 seconds left in the half.

A 48-yard kickoff return by Hester helped the Falcons kick-start a scoring drive in the game's final minute. Ryan converted a third-and-seven near midfield with a 22-yard strike down the middle of the field to Jones, and two plays later was able to spike the ball with one second left. Bryant clanged his first 43-yard attempt off the left upright but the Bucs had called a timeout. He made it on his second try for a three-point halftime lead.

The Falcons' opening drive of the half got a third-down conversion early on a sideline catch by Jones, and an 18-yard grab down the middle by White took it down to the Bucs' 33. Atlanta operated out of a no-huddle for much of the possession, though they huddled up before a third-and-eight that ended up as a five-yard catch by Hester. Bryant came on to increase the lead to six points with a 44-yard field goal.

The Bucs brought Sims back in to start the next drive and his two runs left it at third-and-one at the 28. Third-and-one specialist James came in and moved the chains again with a nine-yard push over left tackle. A false start and an incompletion put the Bucs in a hole but McCown was able to scramble for the 15 needed yards on second down. Jackson converted a third-and-four with a juggling catch of a ball that was nearly intercepted by Trufant, making it first down at the Falcons' 39, but Sims lost the football two plays later for his first NFL fumble. Atlanta recovered at its 35 with five minutes left in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay's defense got off the field with a three-and-out after that turnover and Thigpen erased the yardage loss with a 53-yard punt return back to almost the exact spot of the fumble recovery. Three plays later, on third-and-eight, McCown enjoyed a sturdy pocket and an open throwing lane down the middle, which he used to hit Evans for a gain of 17 to the 15. Two Rainey runs made it third-and-one at the six and the James power package worked to perfection again. In fact, James nearly scored, getting pulled down at the one-yard line on the final play of the third quarter.

After flipping sides, the Bucs needed just two plays to get the lead. After James was stuffed on first down, the Bucs used play-action to get Seferian-Jenkins wide open in the end zone for an easy TD. The extra point put the home team ahead, but a celebration penalty on the rookie tight end for posing with the ball under his foot proved costly. The Bucs had to kick off from their own 20, and though a pooched kick helped keep Hester from breaking loose, the drive still started at the Atlanta 35.

Ryan drove the Falcons from there into Buc territory, then converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard pass to Jones over the middle. For the third time in the game, the Tampa Bay defense got an incompletion on third down but saw the drive extended by a penalty, this time an illegal contact flag on Banks on the opposite side of the field from where the pass was delivered. Two plays later, Ryan hit White on a six-yard TD pass to put Atlanta back on top. The Falcons went for two and got it on a spinning catch by Harry Douglas.

The Bucs' ensuing drive went nowhere and ended badly when a rollout play failed and McCown was swarmed over near the sideline back at the 20. Even worse, Koenen then missed another punt and it rolled out of bounds just across midfield with seven minutes to play. Jackson broke free on the very next snap for a gain of 27 yards to the Bucs' 24, and the Falcons then ran three times before kicking a field goal for the game's final points.

Game Notes:

  • The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive before Sunday's game: WR Robert Herron, CB Alterraun Verner, RB Doug Martin, G Kadeem Edwards, T Anthony Collins, TE Luke Stocker and DE Michael Johnson. Verner, Martin, Edwards, Collins, Stocker and Johnson were out due to injury.
  • The Falcons declared the following seven players inactive: QB Sean Renfree, WR Freddie Martino, CB Javier Arenas, LB Tyler Starr, T Jonathan Scott, T Cameron Bradfield and DE Cliff Matthews. Scott was out due to injury.
  • Patrick Murray's 51-yard field goal in the first quarter was his fourth successful kick from 50 yards or further this season, on five tries. Murray has already tied for the fourth-highest total of 50 -yarders in a single season by a Buccaneer. The record is six by Connor Barth in 2012.
  • That field goal came at the end of a 17-play drive, the Bucs' longest scoring march of the season in terms of plays. Previously, the Bucs had a 15-play field goal drive against Carolina on September 7 and a 15-play touchdown drive at Atlanta on September 18.
  • Marcus Thigpen's 53-yard punt return in the third quarter was the Bucs' longest since a 77-yarder by Micheal Spurlock against New Orleans on Dec. 27, 2009.
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