Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons Keep Bucs at Arm's Length

Stifled for half of the game by the Bucs’ defense, Michael Vick and the Atlanta offense struck for big plays at the beginning and end of Sunday’s game for a 24-14 win and a four game cushion over Tampa Bay

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DE Simeon Rice and the Bucs' defense sacked QB Michael Vick five times but couldn't completely contain the elusive passer

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Atlanta, where they had won four in a row in the Georgia Dome, hoping to pull the division-leading Falcons back to the pack. Instead, thanks to a quick start by the Falcons offense and a rush of second-half sacks, the home team secured a 24-14 victory and a four-game lead over the Buccaneers in the NFC South.

With their two-game winning streak snapped, the Bucs slid back to 3-6 and the fringes of the NFC playoff race. A postseason berth is still quite possible, but the path was made significantly more difficult by Sunday's loss.

QB Michael Vick, who has been held in check more often than not in previous meetings with the Bucs, finished with pedestrian numbers but did enough damage on Atlanta's first three drives to lead to victory. A perfect 45-yard pass over the middle to TE Alge Crumpler set up a game-opening field goal, and a 41-yard run around right end on the next drive led to RB T.J. Duckett's two-yard scoring run.

Thus, the Bucs were down 10-0 less than 10 minutes into the game, a discouraging spot for a team that has not rallied from 10-point deficit to win since December of 1999. Atlanta got up 17-0 in the second quarter but the Bucs rallied back into the game thanks to QB Brian Griese's touch passing and a suddenly rejuvenated defense.

Tampa Bay's defense, in fact, did not allow a first down from the 10-minute mark in the second quarter, when Atlanta scored to go up by 17, until 10 minutes were left in the final period. The Falcons gained only three yards of offense in the third quarter after racking up 195 in the first half. However, after closing the gap to 17-14 five minutes into the second half, the Bucs came up short on a string of drives starting near midfield thanks to a depressing run of sacks and penalties. Griese was sacked seven times in the game, including once on three straight plays near the end of the third quarter, ending a Buccaneer scoring threat.

After their second touchdown, the Bucs gained just 55 yards of net offense. Overall, Atlanta finished with a 325-193 edge in total offense.

After another one of their drives reached the Atlanta 30, the Bucs also failed on a fourth-and-one run, with RB Michael Pittman stuffed by LB Matt Stewart as he tried to take a pitch around the right side. On the previous play, a third-and-one run, Stewart had run the length of the field with a Pittman fumble but the play was called dead by the officials, who ruled that the back's forward progress had been stopped.

Still, the failed fourth down gave Atlanta a first down at their own 30, and the Atlanta offense picked a good time to finally notch another first down. On the second play of the drive, Vick hit Crumpler deep over the middle for a 49-yard touchdown.

Despite the average passing numbers – eight of 16 passing for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception - Vick may have had his best game yet against the Buccaneers, shaking off five sacks to make the big plays when Atlanta needed them. He gained 73 yards on nine runs, part of a very strong running game, as the Falcons predictably took advantage of the Bucs' thinned ranks in the middle of the defensive line. With DT Anthony McFarland sidelined by a triceps injury, Tampa Bay started 12th-year veteran Chidi Ahanotu, who had just signed with the team on Wednesday.

With former Buc Warrick Dunn (17 carries for 76 yards) leading the charge and bigger back T.J. Duckett (12 for 53) handling the goal-line and fourth-quarter duty, Atlanta ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Most of that damage was done in the first quarter and during the fourth-quarter endgame.

The Bucs helped the Falcons with ill-timed penalties in the early going, twice giving Atlanta's offense a new set of downs inside the two-yard line. Another personal foul erased a third-down sack by LB Derrick Brooks on Atlanta's third drive and helped prolong the Falcons' 79-yard scoring march. That one ended in Duckett's second touchdown run, a one-yarder, and a 17-0 lead for Atlanta. The overall penalty differential was 13-6 against the visitors and the Bucs were flagged eight times in the first half alone.

The Bucs did rally a bit in the first half after falling behind by 17, marching 82 yards on nine plays for a touchdown in the second quarter. Rookie WR Michael Clayton caught three passes for 45 yards on the drive, including the scoring play, a 25-yard dart from QB Brian Griese.

Clayton and Griese, two key figures in the Bucs' offensive resurgence, continued to play well. Clayton, the NFL's leading rookie receiver, finished the game with six catches for 90 yards and a score and now has a team-leading 48 receptions for 685 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Griese completed 19 of 26 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and stood in well against frequent Atlanta blitzes, as he had done the weekend before in a win over Kansas City. Griese, who made his first appearance a month ago after Chris Simms was hurt in New Orleans, has now played in five games with four starts and put up very impressive numbers: 99 completions in 142 tries for 1,113 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 105.8. He has compiled a single-game rating of 100 or better in three of his four starts.

Griese's last pass, a desperation throw on third-and-20, was intercepted by CB Allen Rossum, but that was only the second pick he has tossed in almost 150 throws as a Buccaneer.

Tampa Bay's rally continued in the third quarter thanks to the game's first turnover. CB Ronde Barber, known for his timely big-play contributions, picked off a Vick pass in acrobatic fashion, reaching up and back as he dove in front of WR Peerless Price and holding on as he thudded to the ground.

The Bucs scored four plays later, helped along by a facemask penalty on S Cory Hall that led to a bit of a scrum on the visitors' sideline. Two plays after that mess was cleaned up, Griese fired a 22-yard scoring pass to TE Ken Dilger, who now has three touchdowns on the season, tying Clayton for the team lead in that category. Dilger finished with five catches for 51 yards.

Tampa Bay's running game, so strong in the team's last two victories, struggled on Sunday, gaining just 68 yards on 23 carries. Pittman, who came into the game averaging almost 100 combined yards per game in five meetings with the Falcons gained 62 yards on 20 carries and caught four passes for 16 yards.

The Bucs also saw their four-game winning streak in the Georgia Dome come to an end. After six straight victories overall by Tampa Bay in the head-to-head series, Atlanta has now won the last two. The Falcons improved to 7-2 on the season with their win and will lead the division by either three or four games with seven to go, depending upon the outcome of Sunday's New Orleans-Kansas City game.

Notes: Rookie G Jeb Terry, who played a handful of snaps on special teams, saw his first regular-season action. Terry had been inactive for each of the Bucs' first eight games, but the season-ending injury to C John Wade last week pushed Sean Mahan into the starting lineup and Terry into an active reserve role. … The Bucs' kickoff return game was strong despite playing against the league's fourth-ranked kickoff coverage unit. With CB Torrie Cox leading the way, the Bucs averaged 23.6 yards per runback on five kickoffs. In addition, a long return into Atlanta territory by RB Earnest Graham was erased by a penalty. … CB Ronde Barber's third-quarter interception was his second in the last two games and the 22nd of his career. He moved within one pick of fourth place on the team's all-time list, currently occupied by S John Lynch (23).

Injuries: FB Greg Comella, who suffered a lower back strain in the second half, was the Bucs' only reported injury during the game.

Inactives: The Buccaneers named eight players inactive for Sunday night's game: WR Bill Schroeder, RB Jamel White, FB Mike Alstott, LB Marquis Cooper, T Anthony Davis, DT Anthony McFarland, DE Josh Savage and designated third quarterback Chris Simms.

Quarter-by-Quarter Reports: During the game, Buccaneers.com provided updates of the action after each quarter. Those reviews of each period are below, providing a closer look at how the game unfolded.

First Quarter Review

Atlanta dominated the first quarter of play in the Georgia Dome, scoring on their first two drives and moving to midfield on a third as the period came to an end. Atlanta, which got two plays of over 40 yards in the early going, gained 139 yards to the Bucs' 18 and finished the quarter with a 10-0 lead.

Falcons' ball…

Atlanta won the toss but had to start at its own 20 when return man Allen Rossum tripped coming out of the end zone and allowed the coverage to catch up.

On first down, RB Warrick Dunn ran behind left tackle for a gain of three before he was stopped by DT Chartric Darby. Dunn found a bigger hole on second down and shot through it for 10 yards, momentarily bobbling the ball but catching it on the run.

QB Michael Vick faked a handoff and tried to pass on the next play but was chased to the sideline by DE Simeon Rice and forced to throw the ball away. Vick's next pass worked quite a bit better, however, as he found TE Alge Crumpler open down the middle of the field, hitting him stride for a gain of 45 yards down to Tampa Bay's 22.

FB Justin Griffith ran a counter on the next play and got three yards. Vick made a nice play on second down, turning to find blitzing S Dwight Smith in his face and still getting off a four-yard pass across the field to WR Dez White. On third-and-three from the 15, CB Ronde Barber jumped in front of a pass intended for White and nearly intercepted it. The Falcons brought on K Jay Feely for a 33-yard field goal try, and Feely nailed it for the game's first points.

Bucs' ball…

CB Torrie Cox gave the Bucs a nice start with an impressive, winding return of the ensuing kickoff, tripping down to the turf at the Bucs' 39.

Tampa Bay's first play from scrimmage wasn't as nice, as RB Michael Pittman found nowhere to run off right tackle and lost a yard. The Bucs, going with a no-huddle approach, lost five more when C Sean Mahan was called for a false start. It became second-and-21 moments later when G Matt Stinchcomb also false started.

QB Brian Griese was forced to scramble on second down and he went out of bounds on the right side after gaining just a yard. A draw play to Pittman gained just one more and the Bucs had to punt.

Falcons' ball…

After the punt, the Falcons started again at their own 38. Vick took a short drop and hit WR Peerless Price for a gain of 11. Dunn's next carry gained nothing as Rice hit him at the line of scrimmage. Vick scrambled on second down and did get free up the middle, but LB Ian Gold caught him from behind after a gain of just four. The Falcons then ran a designed run for Vick and the elusive QB made it around the right corner with blockers, gaining 41 yards down to the Bucs' six.

A two-yard run by Dunn and Vick was forced into a low completion on second down. However, on that second play, a personal foul against S Jermaine Phillips made it first down at the two. On the ensuing first down, a second-effort run by RB T.J. Duckett just got the ball into the end zone, giving Atlanta a 10-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.

Bucs' ball…

Starting again at the 28, the Bucs got a quick nine yards on a screen pass over the middle to Pittman, who then moved the chains with a well-blocked, three-yard run over center.

Pittman got the carry on first down, as well, and got two more before the hole closed quickly. Rookie CB DeAngelo Hall closed immediately on TE Ken Dilger to keep his second-down catch to just three yards. On third-and-five, Griese was hit as he threw, which may have allowed S Bryan Scott to get over in time to knock away a promising pass down the middle to WR Joey Galloway. The Bucs had to punt again and it rolled to a stop at Atlanta's 21.

Falcons' ball…

LB Derrick Brooks got instant penetration on first down and hit Dunn after a gain of just one. LB Shelton Quarles got Dunn on the next play, and the gain was just two more. On third-and-seven, Brooks blitzed and sacked Vick for a loss of nine, but that nice moment faded quickly when Rice was flagged for a personal foul. The result was a first-down for Atlanta at their own 39, and a rollout pass to Crumpler gained nine. Dunn got the ball to midfield and a first down on his next run, which ended the first quarter.

Second Quarter Review

The Bucs rallied a bit in the second quarter after falling behind 17-0. A long touchdown drive closed the gap to 17-7 heading into the intermission. At halftime, the Falcons had 195 yards of offense to the Bucs' 92. Tampa Bay had also hurt itself repeatedly with penalties, a total of eight for 50 yards in the first half.

Falcons' ball…

Starting with a first down exactly at midfield, the Falcons got nine yards on the first play when QB Michael Vick escaped pressure and scrambled up the middle and to his left. RB Warrick Dunn used a quick spin move to gain some room up the middle on second down, rushing for 11 more yards to the Bucs' 30.

The Atlanta line opened a huge hole up the middle on the next play and Dunn shot through it for 13 more yards. Vick was flushed again on the next play but was able to gain four yards by scrambling up the middle. A trap play over right tackle opened another hole for Dunn, good enough for a seven-yard gain down to the six.

Dunn was tripped up by LB Shelton Quarles on first down, though he got to the two. The Falcons tried a fade to rookie WR Michael Jenkins, and CB Mario Edwards was flagged for pass interference, making it first-and-goal at the one. Two plays later, T.J. Duckett ran it in for the touchdown.

Bucs' ball…

A penalty erased a long kickoff return by RB Earnest Graham and put the Bucs at their own 18 to start the next drive. QB Brian Griese went to rookie WR Michael Clayton twice, throwing him a six-yard pass and handing it to him for a three-yard end-around. The Bucs called a timeout before the resulting third-and-one, and came back with a good play, a Michael Pittman run off right tackle that gained 10 yards.

Griese seemed to have a bead on WR Joey Galloway on first down, but his pass fell incomplete when Galloway failed to realize it was on the way. An offside penalty did give the Bucs five yards, and a fine-looking Pittman sweep right got enough yards to move the chains.

A rollout pass to TE Ken Dilger worked as well, as the tight end got 11 yards and a first down at Atlanta's 42. The Bucs' blockers picked up a blitz on first down, giving Griese time to fire a hard pass to Clayton on the left hash marks for a gain of 14.

Pittman got three yards on first down, and Griese executed a perfect play-action pass on second down, firing hard across the middle to Clayton, who had worked his way wide open with a deep slant. After the catch, Clayton easily beat the defense into the end zone, cutting Atlanta's lead to 17-7 with six minutes to play in the first half.

Falcons' ball…

Corey Ivy dropped return man Allen Rossum at the 20 with an open-field tackle. Vick tried to scramble on first down but was dropped after a gain of just one by DE Greg Spires. Duckett pushed up the middle for four yards, setting up third-and-five. DE Simeon Rice barely missed a sack and drew a penalty on his third-down rush, but the Bucs declined it when Jenkins was unable to hold onto a very deep Vick pass. Atlanta had to punt for the first time and Galloway returned it 16 yards to the Bucs' 42.

Bucs' ball…

Griese's first-down pass was well over WR Joe Jurevicius's head and Pittman picked up two short yards on a second-down sweep. On third-and-13 after a false start, Griese went down thanks to big pressure and Patrick Kerney's eventual sack, losing eight yards. The ensuing punt went just 37 yards, though Ivy made another timely tackle to deny Rossum any return yards.

Falcons' ball…

A play-action rollout by Vick on first down didn't fool Rice, who shot in for a seven-yard sack. After the two-minute warning, Dunn took a delayed handoff and got six yards, setting up third-and-11. An offsides call made it third-and-six and a shovel-pass to Dunn nearly worked, with Quarles making a hard tackle at the last moment, forcing a punt.

Bucs' ball…

Galloway executed a fair catch at the Bucs' 14. Pushed that far back, the Bucs played conservatively, running Pittman twice to drain the last minute off the clock.

Third Quarter Review

The Bucs made a game of it in the third quarter, thanks mostly to a swarming Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs allowed only three yards of offense in the quarter and also secured the game's only turnover, which was converted into a Tampa Bay touchdown. The Bucs still went into the final period down by three, however, 17-14.

Bucs' ball…

CB Torrie Cox bobbled a bouncing kickoff and got out only to the Bucs' 15 to start the second half. A play-action sideline pass to FB Jameel Cook picked up six yards on first down, and QB Brian Griese then moved the chains with a five-yard strike over the middle to rookie WR Michael Clayton.

From the 26, Griese dropped back to throw again but was swarmed over quickly by DT Rod Coleman, losing seven yards on the sack. A second-down toss-sweep to RB Michael Pittman was well-blocked but got only five yards when Pittman tripped turning the corner. On third-and-11, Griese went down again, once again caught by Coleman back at the Bucs' 14.

Falcons' ball…

After Josh Bidwell's punt was fair caught at the Atlanta 40, QB Michael Vick tried a play-action rollout on first down but was caught in a swarm of Buc defenders. DT Chidi Ahanotu and LB Ian Gold eventually got him for a 10-yard sack. Vick then completed a nine-yard pass to WR Peerless Price, but his next pass ended in a turnover. Vick tried to hit Price again on the right side, but CB Ronde Barber made an incredibly athletic interception, falling to the ground with the ball at the Falcons' 47.

Bucs' ball…

Pittman got just one yard on a first down run but got around the corner on a second-down screen and picked up seven more. That became a first down at the Falcons' 24 when S Cory Hall drew a personal foul facemask penalty at the end of the play. Two plays later, Griese threw a perfect touch pass over the Falcons' coverage and into the hands of TE Ken Dilger at the goal line. The 22-yard scoring play closed Atlanta's lead to 17-14.

Falcons' ball…

Allen Rossum got the ensuing kickoff out to the Falcons' 31, but RB Warrick Dunn's carries on first and second down left Atlanta in a third-and-four at the 37. CB Torrie Cox, playing the nickel corner position, dived to get a hand on a long pass over the middle intended for WR Dez White.

Bucs' ball…

After a fair catch at the Bucs' 22, Pittman shot off left guard for a gain of five. A play-action pass intended for FB Jameel Cook was well-defended and incomplete. On third-and-five, Clayton drew a pass-interference call when he was hit early by S Bryan Scott.

That gave the Bucs a first down at the 35, and Griese dropped back and looked deep for WR Joey Galloway. Since Galloway was well-covered, the QB opted for a dumpoff to Cook that got four yards. The second-down play worked well, as Pittman took a pitch to the right and zipped through a seam for nine yards to the Bucs' 48.

Tampa Bay got well into Atlanta territory on the next play, thanks to a great pick-up block by Pittman. Griese stumbled out of the snap and would have had a defender right in his face, but Pittman picked it up, giving Griese time to find Clayton downfield for a gain of 21.

From the Atlanta 31, however, the Bucs went backward. A false start and two consecutive sacks put Tampa Bay all the way back at the Atlanta 49. On third-and-28, Griese escaped the initial pressure but eventually went down at the Bucs' 49 for a third consecutive sack. The following punt was fair caught at Atlanta's 22.

Falcons' ball…

Dunn got three yards on first down and Vick was sacked by DE Dewayne White for no yards on second down. LB Shelton Quarles blitzed on third down, which forced Vick into the arms of DE Greg Spires, and the two combined for a 10-yard sack. Atlanta had to punt again and Galloway called for the fair catch at the Bucs' 46.

Bucs' ball…

A toss-sweep to Pittman on first down worked to the tune of six yards, as Pittman went out of bounds at the Atlanta 48. Another Pittman run on second down got only one yard, and a third-down pass to Dilger appeared to move the chains. However, the play was erased by a holding penalty, and Griese was predictably sacked on third down as LB Matt Stewart came in unblocked from the left side. Josh Bidwell helped out with a booming, 52-yard punt, and a holding penalty on the Falcons made the line of scrimmage Atlanta's eight-yard line.

Falcons' ball…

A five-yard run by Dunn on first down brought the third quarter to an end.

Fourth Quarter Review

The Bucs' comeback attempt came up short thanks to a series of failed drives from good field position and one last Atlanta scoring strike. Thanks to the 24-14 loss, Tampa Bay drops to 3-6 on the season, four games behind the first-place Falcons. The Bucs were out-gained in the contest, 325 yards to 193.

Falcons' ball…

Atlanta faced a second-and-five at its own 13 to start the fourth quarter, but quickly had to punt it away. QB Michael Vick was forced to scramble and eventually sacked by LB Shelton Quarles when he ran out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. Quarles got Vick down again on third down when the quarterback took off on a delayed run but got only two yards. WR Joey Galloway got the following punt back to the Bucs' 48.

Bucs' ball…

Enjoying good field position once again, the Bucs got into Atlanta territory with consecutive completions of four and 11 yards to TE Ken Dilger. RB Michael Pittman then took a sweep around left end and got three yards. After another Pittman run came up about a half-yard short, the Bucs came out in a power set on third-and-one and tried to pound Pittman up the middle. Atlanta's defense held, and an apparent fumble and touchdown return by the Falcons was brought back when it was ruled that Pittman's forward progress had been stopped.

On fourth-and-inches, the Bucs tried a pitch to Pittman but the Falcons stopped it, with LB Matt Stewart coming up to make the stop for a loss of two.

Falcons' ball…

The Falcons took over on downs at their own 30, and Vick's first-down pass to TE Alge Crumpler was broken up by a diving Dwight Smith. However, RB T.J. Duckett found a huge opening on second down and exploited for 21 yards to the Bucs' 49. On the next play, Crumpler got wide open down the middle for a Vick touchdown pass. The extra point put Atlanta up by 10, 24-14, with just under 10 minutes to play.

Bucs' ball…

From the Bucs' 21, Griese hit WR Joe Jurevicius on a shallow out for a gain of three. The Buc quarterback escaped pressure and improvised a shovel pass to Pittman for four yards on second down, but a similar play fell incomplete when Pittman just missed making an acrobatic, one-handed catch. The Bucs had to punt and it was fair caught at the Atlanta 29.

Falcons' ball…

Dunn got three yards up the middle on first down but a scrambling, deep heave to WR Peerless Price was out of the receiver's reach. Vick escaped pressure and scrambled right on third down, but hustling DE Greg Spires was able to force him out of bounds two yards short of the sticks. Atlanta had to punt and Joey Galloway made a fair catch at the Bucs' 32.

Bucs' ball…

On first down, Griese fired a low pass through traffic to WR Michael Clayton for 19 yards and a first down just past midfield. After a four-yard pass to Galloway, T Kenyatta Walker was nailed for holding, making it second-and-16 from the Bucs' 45. After a screen play that lost four yards, Griese threw a desperation pass in Galloway's direction on third-and-20, but the receiver ran upfield and CB Allen Rossum stayed put for an easy interception.

Falcons' ball…

From the Bucs' 48, Vick ran around left end and got eight yards before going out of bounds. Duckett moved the chains with a lumbering run up the middle. Duckett got the next run, as well, gaining six yards as the clock ticked down below four minutes.

A forced throwaway on second down led to third-and-four, and Duckett was able to get the necessary yardage by plowing over left tackle. A false start and a Duckett run for three yards made it second-and-12 at the Bucs' 28. Tampa Bay used its first timeout with 2:35 left in the game.

Another Duckett run picked up one yard and used five seconds and the Bucs' second timeout. After the break, however, Vick dropped back and fired a 15-yard completion to Crumpler, giving Atlanta a first down at the Bucs' 12. That play brought on the two-minute warning. Two more Duckett run and two kneel-downs brought the game to a close.

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