RB Michael Pittman had one of his biggest days as a Buc, rushing for 82 yards and adding 82 more through the air
There were two teams in the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon that clearly wanted to run the football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could, the Atlanta Falcons couldn't and the result was a runaway, 31-10 win for the visiting Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay out-rushed the Falcons, 132-29 on the day, buying enough respect on the ground to set up several big plays in the passing game. RB Michael Pittman led the way in both regards, gaining 82 rushing yards and 82 receiving yards, highlighted by a 68-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Tampa Bay's defense was dominant, allowing just 136 yards, 49 of them in the fourth quarter when the Bucs had a three-touchdown lead and their second-string defense on the field, and forced five turnovers, including four interceptions. Defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland repeatedly penetrated the Atlanta offensive line to disrupt running plays in the first half, and both defenders also got into the game on offense, to great effect. More on that later.
The Bucs wanted to establish the run in hopes of exploiting Atlanta's man-to-man coverage with some big plays, as they did last year on Keyshawn Johnson's 76-yard touchdown catch. Eighteen minutes into the game, they did just that, but with a running back, not a receiver.
On a third-and-two play with the Falcon defense stacked near the line of scrimmage, Pittman slipped behind the defense and QB Brad Johnson took a three-step drop and lobbed a ball over the defenders, hitting Pittman in stride. The agile back then out-raced two Falcon defenders to the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown, the longest scoring reception by a running back in team history.
The previous record in that category, a 60-yarder was held by Warrick Dunn, who was dressed in the opposition's uniform on this day. The Falcons also tried to establish their running game early, but Dunn was caught in the backfield on four of his first seven carries and had just six yards at halftime, seven by the end of the game. The frustrated Georgia Dome crowd clamored for the use of bigger back T.J. Duckett, but he was largely ignored until the second half and finished with just six yards on three carries. In fact, none of the five Atlanta players who ran the ball gained more than seven yards on the day.
The Bucs' second touchdown also victimized a stacked-in-the-box Atlanta defense, though from much closer range and to an even more surprising target. After a Dwight Smith interception gave Tampa Bay the ball at Atlanta's 37, a superb, 15-yard catch by Keyshawn Johnson on third-and-eight helped get the Bucs down to the six.
On first-and-goal, the Bucs brought in a massive package of players, putting DT Warren Sapp on the left side of the line and DT Anthony McFarland on the right. Atlanta expected run but the Bucs faked a handoff to Pittman and Sapp snuck into the end zone, where he was wide-open for a six-yard touchdown catch.
Sapp has played extensively in short-yardage offensive situations in the last two years, but that play just after the two-minute warning was his first career offensive touchdown. His end zone dance made it clear that Sapp is fond of Atlanta, and well he should be. As a rookie in 1995, Sapp recorded his only other touchdown on a five-yard return of an intercepted shovel pass against the Falcons (Oct. 22, 1995). Last year in the Georgia Dome, Sapp intercepted a pass deep in Atlanta territory and lateraled the ball to LB Derrick Brooks, who took it in for a touchdown.
At halftime, the Bucs had a 177-87 edge in total yardage and the game had the feel of an impending blowout when Atlanta quickly went three-and-out to start the third quarter. That changed in a hurry, however, when RB Thomas Jones fumbled three plays later and Sam Rogers carried the loose ball back to Tampa Bay's two. Though the Bucs made Atlanta use three plays to get it in, RB Woody Dantzler scored on a one-yard keeper on third down, making it 17-10.
That touchdown was the first one allowed by Tampa Bay in 2003, and the first offensive touchdown by a Buccaneer opponent in 18 regular-season quarters, dating back to the second-to-last game of 2002.
Atlanta's comeback proved to have a very limited shelf life.
FB Mike Alstott, the Bucs' second-half battering ram, scored two touchdowns in a three-minute span and Tampa Bay's lead was inflated to 31-10. Alstott, who set up his second touchdown run with a 29-yard run to the one, finished the game with 44 yards on eight carries and the Bucs gained 132 yards overall on the ground, as compared to 150 in their first two games combined.
Tampa Bay's defense was at its swarming best, picking off QB Doug Johnson, Michael Vick's unlucky replacement, three times and third-stringer Kurt Kittner once. FB Darian Barnes also forced a fumble that S John Howell recovered when he flattened TE Brian Kozlowski on an ill-advised return of a short kickoff. That turnover set up the second of Alstott's two third-quarter touchdowns.
S Dwight Smith, who had his first two NFL interceptions in the Georgia Dome last October, picked off two passes again, and S John Lynch had his first pick of the year on a diving play in the second quarter near Tampa Bay's goal line.
Johnson finished the game with just 95 passing yards on 13 completions and was sacked twice, once by DE Simeon Rice. Rice already has four sacks through three games. LB Ryan Nece led the Bucs with five tackles and an interception, the pick coming after he switched from the strongside to the weakside to play on the second-team defense late in the game.
The win was a critical one for the Buccaneers, who had fallen to 1-1 and 0-1 in the NFC South after last Sunday's overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers. At 2-1, Tampa Bay stands a half-game behind the idle Panthers. The Buccaneers have now beaten Atlanta six consecutive times, dating back to 1997, and four straight times in the Georgia Dome by an average margin of 17.3 points.
Tampa Bay also shook off its placekicking woes of the week before, kicking one field goal and four extra points without incident. One disturbing point remained, however; after committing 17 penalties for 168 yards last Sunday, the Bucs were flagged 10 more times for 123 yards in Atlanta.
Notes: The Buccaneers remain the only team that has not lost back-to-back games since the start of the 2002 season. Tampa Bay has followed each of its five losses in that span with a win, four times doing so on the road. … Tampa Bay made a couple of adjustments to its placekicking team in Atlanta after having serious difficulties getting off field goals and point after attempts last Sunday against Carolina. The guards on both sides of long-snapper Ryan Benjamin were changed, with John Wade taking over for Cosey Coleman on the left side and rookie Sean Mahan replacing Wade on the right side. … The Buccaneer defense has had at least one takeaway in 44 consecutive games, a streak that was extended in Atlanta by John Lynch's diving interception on the first play of the second quarter. That streak is tied for the second longest in the NFL since 1993 (also Pittsburgh, 1985-88); the longest is Philadelphia's 71 from 1985-90. … The pick was the 22nd of Lynch's career. … Tampa Bay also pushed its streak of consecutive games with at least one sack to 63 games when DE Simeon Rice caught Doug Johnson in the backfield in the third quarter for a loss of 11. The Bucs moved one game closer to the record in that category, established at 68 games by Dallas from 1976-80. Rice personally recorded his fourth sack of the season, giving him 27.5 in his last 25 games, by far the most in the NFL in that span. … TE Ken Dilger's 24-yard reception in the first quarter was the 300th of his career. … K Martin Gramatica's 24-yard field goal in the first quarter marked Tampa Bay's first score in the opening period this season. … The presence of DT Warren Sapp on short-yardage and goal-line plays is no longer a novelty for the Buccaneers, but on the play that resulted in Sapp's six-yard touchdown catch, the Bucs also put DT Anthony McFarland on the line. It was the first time Tampa Bay had used both of its defensive tackles in that manner this year, though they practiced it often during training camp. … FB Mike Alstott's two third-quarter touchdowns gave him 47 rushing scores in his career, and 59 TDs overall. Both are team records. He was the first back to score twice in a game since last Oct. 13, when he did the same against Cleveland. His first score was the Bucs' first rushing touchdown since last Dec. 15 at Detroit.
Injury Updates: The Bucs did not report an injury during Sunday's game in Atlanta.
Quarter Reports: During Sunday's game, Buccaneers.com provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.
First Quarter Update
The Buccaneers spent a good portion of the first quarter in Atlanta territory, but came away with just one field goal and a 3-0 lead at the end of the period. Atlanta gained just 17 yards on 10 plays in the quarter, nine of them rushes, but had the ball in scoring position when the clock expired thanks to a long punt return.
The Buccaneers won the toss and thus elected to receive. The game started out superbly for the visiting team as RB Aaron Stecker took Jay Feely's kick at his own six and returned it 44 yards to the 50. On the return, Stecker looked to be bottled up at the 20, but he jumped over one man and found a seam to the left sideline. S Gerald McBurrows just kept the Buc return man from getting around the corner and going the distance.
The Bucs' offense got off to a good start as well, as two consecutive runs up the middle by RB Michael Pittman picked up five yards each and a first down at the Atlanta 40. Brad Johnson's first pass, however, was off target under pressure up the middle.
On second-and-10, the Bucs picked up a Falcon blitz but Johnson's pass over the middle to TE Ken Dilger was too hot to handle. On third down, Johnson tried to hit WR Keenan McCardell but the pass was well-covered and incomplete. The Bucs punted and Tom Tupa dropped it in at the three, but it bounded into the end zone for a touchback.
The Falcons also started with the run, but LB Ryan Nece came around the left end and tackled RB Warrick Dunn from behind for no gain. Dunn's next run was also met in the backfield, by CB Ronde Barber, and the back was swarmed over for a loss of one. On third-and-11, the Falcons did a great job of picking up a big Buccaneer blitz but coverage downfield was still good and QB Doug Johnson had to settle for a dumpoff to Dunn that gained just two yards.
CB Tim Wansley fielded the ensuing 46-yard punt by Chris Mohr and returned it 12 yards to the Bucs' 45, nearly breaking through for a longer gain. Pittman's first-down carry was less successful this time, picking up just one, but Johnson looked for McCardell again and found him over the middle for a 14-yard gain back to the Atlanta 40.
After a two-yard run by Pittman, the Bucs shifted out of a run formation and somehow freed Dilger on the right side. Johnson hit him in the flat, and with no Atlanta tacklers in the area, the tight end was able to turn it upfield for a gain of 24 to the Atlanta 14.
Pittman then got four more yards up the middle, setting up second-and-six. A screen pass to Pittman looked promising until DT Ellis Johnson made a stellar play to catch him from behind and force a loss of one. Johnson and McCardell hooked up on a quick-hitter over the middle, but S Travaris Robinson reacted just as swiftly, immediately tackling the receiver one yard shy of a first down. The Bucs settled for Martin Gramatica's 24-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
A fine open-field tackle by CB Corey Ivy defused what looked like a possible breakaway return by Woody Dantzler and forced the Falcons to start at their own 28. Atlanta tried to run the ball again but DT Anthony McFarland shot through the line to drop Dunn in the backfield for a loss of two. DT Warren Sapp made a one-armed tackle of Dunn on second down to keep the gain to three yards and set up third-and-nine. Johnson tried to scramble for the first down almost immediately, but he was sandwiched by DE Greg Spires and LB Derrick Brooks after a gain of just four. Wansley fair caught the following punt at the Bucs' 28.
Tampa Bay's first play was a pass down the sideline to Pittman, but it picked up only two yards, and Pittman's run off left tackle on second down gained one. On third-and-seven, a pass underneath to McCardell was well-defended and incomplete. Tupa responded with a booming, 56-yard punt, but Allen Rossum returned the kick 42 yards to the Buccaneer' 45.
FB Justin Griffith got the carry on first down and bashed over left guard for a gain of five, and Dunn's second-down tote got four. On third-and-inches, Dunn just slipped through a tackle to fall over the 35 and pick up a first down. The last play of the first quarter was another Dunn run to the left side, this one for just one yard.
Second Quarter Update
The Bucs dominated in the second quarter, turning a 3-0 lead into a 17-3 advantage by halftime. Tampa Bay's defense came up with three interceptions in the half, setting up one touchdown and preventing another scoring attempt by Atlanta. At halftime, the Bucs had a 187-77 edge in total yardage.
The second quarter started with the game's first turnover, as S John Lynch dove to intercept an overthrown pass by QB Doug Johnson. Though the intended receiver, TE Alge Crumpler, appeared to jump over Lynch without touching him, the Buc defender was ruled down at the three-yard line.
To get out of the shadow of their own end zone, the Bucs gave it to RB Michael Pittman twice and he made two rugged runs to get a total of seven yards. QB Brad Johnson appeared to convert the third-and-three with a pass over the middle to WR Keenan McCardell, but the play was erased by a facemask penalty on C John Wade. S Travaris Robinson then almost intercepted Johnson's next pass, which was intended for WR Keyshawn Johnson. Tom Tupa's ensuing punt was fair caught by Allen Rossum at the Bucs' 49.
The Falcons ran a play-action fake on first down, and though the resulting deep pass to WR Peerless Price was incomplete, CB Ronde Barber was flagged for interference, leading to a pickup of 30 yards down to the 19.
Two Duckett runs gained just four yards total, including a toss-sweep right that DE Ellis Wyms easily shut down for just one yard. On third-and-six, WR Jimmy Farris made an acrobatic catch of a shallow out, but was stopped two yards short by CB Brian Kelly. The Falcons then chose to tie the game on Jay Feely's 29-yard field goal.
RB Aaron Stecker was stopped at the 19 on his return, but the Bucs picked up five free yards on a defensive holding penalty. Pittman then picked up six yards on a swing pass to the left, but just two on a run up the middle. On third-and-two, the Bucs struck gold.
With Atlanta stacking the line, the Bucs released Pittman again and he got behind the Atlanta defense. Johnson's lob pass hit him in stride and Pittman was able to outrun two Falcon defenders to the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown.
The Falcons stormed back quickly. A good return by Rossum got the ball out to the 29, but Dunn lost four yards on first down thanks to DT Warren Sapp's penetration. However, TE Alge Crumpler made an acrobatic catch for 21 yards on second down and got another five on a screen on the next play. Worse, S Dwight Smith was flagged for roughing the passer and those 15 yards set Atlanta up at the Bucs' 34.
A quick sideline pass to WR Peerless Price picked up eight yards, but two plays later, on third-and-two, Smith's big hit dislodged the ball from Crumpler's hands. The Falcons came up empty when Feely misfired right on a 44-yard field goal try.
The switchover put Tampa Bay at its own 34, and a quick pass over the middle to McCardell secured four yards. Pittman got four more trying the middle, but Johnson's third-down pass was pressured and incomplete. Tom Tupa's ensuing punt covered all 58 yards to the far end zone for a touchback.
On first down, however, Sapp broke immediately through the Atlanta line and forced Doug Johnson into a quick pass that was far overthrown and easily intercepted by S Dwight Smith, who returned it three yards to the Atlanta 37.
A release pass to FB Mike Alstott failed on first down and an underneath toss to Pittman was good for just two yards. On third-and-eight, WR Keyshawn Johnson ran a quick slant and made a marvelous two-hand catch despite having CB Tyrone Williams draped all over him.
The result was a first down at the 20, and Pittman pushed the pile ahead for four yards on first down. Johnson wanted McCardell on a corner route in the end zone on third down but immediate pressure up the middle forced the ball to be thrown well out of bounds. A false start penalty made it third-and-12, and B. Johnson bought time by scrambling forward, nearly hitting McCardell at the five. Though the receiver couldn't hold on, the Bucs gained a new set of downs when the Falcons were called for defensive holding.
Pittman then got the Bucs inside the 10 with a misdirection run over left tackle, slicing through the line for a pickup of 11 and a first down at the six. That play also brought on the two-minute warning. The Bucs needed only one play after the break to get the ball in the end zone.
The Bucs came out in a jumbo package with both Sapp and fellow DT Anthony McFarland on the line of scrimmage. The Falcons responded by stacking the line and the Bucs caught them by surprise, slipping Sapp into the end zone for a wide-open touchdown reception and a 17-3 Buc lead
The Bucs trapped Rossum at the 28 on the next kickoff return, but Atlanta got 11 quick yards on a reception by Price. Doug Johnson's next pass, deep down the left side, was incomplete, broken up by Tim Wansley, but a screen pass to Dunn picked up 11 yards to the midfield stripe. Atlanta then called a timeout with 1:10 left in the half.
McFarland appeared to get Johnson on a sack on the next play, but a penalty on Chartric Darby instead gave Atlanta a first down at the Bucs' 35. Fortunately for the visitors, Johnson was harried into an ill-advised throw on the next play and Smith intercepted it, resulting in a touchback with 48 seconds left. With Atlanta inexplicably using their two remaining timeouts, it took three kneel-downs to kill the clock.
Third Quarter Update
Atlanta started the second half with a mild comeback thanks to a big defensive play, but Tampa Bay responded with two quick touchdowns and went into the final period leading 31-10. The Bucs also had a 309-73 edge in yardage when the fourth quarter began.
The Falcons' first drive of the second half started at their own 32, and WR Peerless Price picked up five yards on a first-down completion to the left sideline. The Falcons got tricky on second down, handing off to Woody Dantzler going sideways, but the Bucs got him deep in the backfield for a loss of seven. QB Doug Johnson was nearly sacked on third down but managed to get off a backhand lob to RB Warrick Dunn. DT Warren Sapp got Dunn for no gain, however.
After Atlanta's punt, the Bucs started at their own 30. RB Michael Pittman, who had a big first half, started off the second with a dive over the middle for four yards. He got six more and a first down on a right-to-left gasher behind a good block by G Cosey Coleman.
The Bucs seemed content to run the ball, but it backfired on the next play when RB Thomas Jones, on his first carry of the day, fumbled after a short gain. LB Sam Rogers scooped it up and returned it 37 yards to the Bucs' two, though good hustle by Brad Johnson and Mike Alstott prevented the defensive touchdown. The play was challenged by the Buccaneers and reviewed, but upheld as called.
The Falcons ran on first down, and Dunn broke one tackle but couldn't get through DT Anthony McFarland to the end zone. On second down, DE Greg Spires tripped Dunn up in the backfield for no gain. The Falcons then brought in Dantzler at quarterback and T.J. Duckett in the backfield, and Dantzler kept it on what appeared to be an option to the right, sneaking in for the touchdown.
The Bucs came back firing, starting with a three-yard pass to Pittman to their own 30 and following with a 17-yard strike over the middle to WR Keenan McCardell. Pittman got the carry on the resulting first down and caromed off several Atlanta tacklers to get three tough yards to midfield.
Pittman's juggling catch of a screen pass on second down nearly resulted in a Ray Buchanan interception, but the Buc back eventually hauled it in and danced for two yards on the sideline. On third-and-five, Johnson used excellent pocket protection to eventually find WR Karl Williams crossing right to left for a gain of 14.
The Bucs then decided to bash it, bringing in an extra tight end and fullbacks Jameel Cook and Mike Alstott. The first play was an Alstott run up the gut for a gain of three to the Atlanta 31. Johnson barely got a short throw to Keyshawn Johnson off on second down, but the receiver made an outstanding sliding catch of a pass behind him for a pickup of 10 and a first down at the 21. Pittman then sliced off right tackle for a breakaway, 16-yard run.
On first-and-goal, the Bucs pitched the ball to RB Aaron Stecker, who ran around right end for three yards down to the two. Alstott then came back into the game and dove over the middle for a two-yard touchdown. The Bucs' lead was back to 14, 24-10.
Tampa Bay got the ball right back on special teams. K Martin Gramatica hit a low kickoff that TE Brian Kozlowski picked off the turf at the 40. Rather than give it up to a return man, Kozlowski took off towards the middle of the field and, 11 yards later, was knocked backward by a vicious hit from FB Darian Barnes. Kozlowski fumbled and S John Howell, who was also in on the hit, recovered for Tampa Bay at the Atlanta 40.
Two hard runs up the middle by Pittman left the Bucs less than a yard short of a first down, and Alstott bashed it over for the needed inches. On the next play, Alstott went up the middle again, but this time he broke into the clear, ran around a block by WR Keyshawn Johnson and made it to the Atlanta one for a gain of 29 before Ray Buchanan tackled him. On the very next snap, Alstott simply went over left guard for the touchdown.
Atlanta's next drive started at the Falcon 32, and went forward two yards on a Duckett run up the middle. Duckett then took a swing pass to the left sideline for a gain of five, but DE Simeon Rice fought his way around the left tackle for an 11-yard sack on third down, forcing a punt and ending the third quarter.
Fourth Quarter Update
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, but the visiting Buccaneers finished off a dominating 31-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons to move to 2-1 on the season. By game's end, Tampa Bay had a 316-136 edge in total yardage. The Bucs also forced five turnovers while committing just one.
The fourth quarter began with an Atlanta punt, which CB Tim Wansley ran back to the Bucs' 32. FB Mike Alstott carried on first and second down, getting one and then five yards, but his second carry ended in a holding penalty on the Bucs downfield, setting up second-and-19. The Bucs then gave it to Michael Pittman twice and he got a total of four yards before a Tom Tupa punt.
From their own 22, the Falcons got off to a good start on WR Peerless Price's 11-yard catch, but then lost 10 yards on a holding penalty. On first-and-20, TE Alge Crumpler paid the price for a five-yard catch, as he was sandwiched by CB Brian Kelly and LB Derrick Brooks. RB Warrick Dunn picked up seven yards on a second-down dumpoff, setting up third-and-eight. The Bucs brought a blitz from the left side and LB Nate Webster shot through untouched to trap Johnson on a nine-yard sack.
Tampa Bay brought in backup QB Shaun King and simply tried to run the ball and kill the clock, but consecutive penalties on the Bucs made it first-and-32 at the 12 before they could get started. RB Aaron Stecker ran once for two yards, the Bucs picked up five yards on an offside penalty and Alstott got two more. On third-and-23, the Bucs gave it to WR Karl Williams on an end-around and he got two more. Tom Tupa then contributed a 60-yard punt and Atlanta had to start fresh at its own 17.
QB Kurt Kittner came in to lead the Falcons' next drive and threw one very errant incompletion. He was then replaced by Woody Dantzler, who ran around right end for 12 yards and a first down at the Atlanta 29. A pass-interference penalty gave Atlanta another first down at the 45, and TE Brian Kozlowski's catch picked up three yards to the 48.
On the next play, the Bucs took the ball back. LB Ryan Nece stuck his hand around Price to break up a short pass, then made an amazingly acrobatic play to intercept his own deflection at the Atlanta 49.
Stecker got three yard son a first down run, but King was sacked by Ellis Johnson for a loss of nine and the Bucs gave it back to Stecker for a short run on third-and-15. The Bucs had to punt again and Atlanta took over at its own 32.
Tampa Bay brought in its second-string defense, but Kittner's first two passes were well overthrown. A third-down slant to Price was just a bit too high to handle and the Falcons chose to punt with 1:45 left. However, after a penalty on the Bucs made it fourth-and-five, the Falcons decided to go for it on fourth down and Kittner barely zipped a pass past Nece to Price for a gain of six and a first down at the 43.
Three plays later, after two incompletions, Kittner hooked up with Kozlowski for a gain of 11. A dumpoff to Duckett for eight yards and a deep pass to WR Peerless Price nearly drained the clock, though Price's obvious interference on CB Corey Ivy extended the game by one snap. The final play was a four-yard pass to Price.