Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Falcons: Scenes from Raymond James Stadium

Connor Barth has been one of the most consistent field goal kickers in the league this season, and that includes from long distances. He entered Sunday 4-for-6 from 50 yards or more, including a 57-yarder. • So Barth was confident heading into a potential go-ahead 56-yarder with 3:37 left and the Bucs trailing 24-23. • "It's in my range," Barth said. • Said WR Mike Williams: "We had complete confidence in him. We all thought he was going to make it." • But Barth's try fell short and to the right, and Atlanta held on for a one-point victory. • "I didn't hit it good," said Barth, who made three field goals Sunday, including a 48-yarder. "That's all I can say. They've got faith in me, I just didn't make it. It's pretty simple." • Bucs coach Greg Schiano said a lot of possibilities were in his mind before Barth's attempt, from trying to pin the Falcons deep with a punt to going for it on fourth and 7 from Atlanta's 38-yard line. But Schiano also remembered Barth making a longer kick from the same spot and had seen him make 81 percent of his kicks entering the game. • "The reason we (tried the field goal) was my confidence in Connor that he was going to make it," Schiano said. "I still have confidence in him. If I had to do it another time, I believe he's going to make it. That's the kind of kicker I think we have. It's not like every day he has to hit a 56-yarder and we call it a day. That's a tall order, but we have one of the best kickers in the National Football League."

Cornerback E.J. Biggers doesn't blitz often. But when he did Sunday, it turned into a big play — and his first career sack. It was early in the fourth quarter, and Tampa Bay had just taken a 20-17 lead over the Falcons. With the Falcons facing third and 1 on their 44, QB Matt Ryan, operating out of the shotgun, took the snap and looked to his left. But Biggers came off the blindside corner on a blitz and was untouched, hitting Ryan and forcing a fumble. DT Gerald McCoy recovered on the Falcons 36. The end result was a 48-yard field goal by Connor Barth. • "It was as great call by the coaches," Biggers said. "Everybody did their job on the play. When everybody does their job, great things happen." • Ryan took the blame for the blunder. • "Just a mistake on my part," he said. "We had the protection sliding that way and able to handle one (blitzer) off the edge, and they brought two."

. Bucs RB Doug Martin has taken the NFL by storm in recent weeks, so much so that hardly anyone bats an eye when he puts up staggering numbers. The Falcons had taken note. They made stopping Martin their top priority Sunday, and Atlanta arguably did it better than any team. Tampa Bay's offensive rookie of the year candidate scored two touchdowns but was limited to 50 yards on 21 carries for his lowest rushing average of the season (2.4 yards per carry), which left the Bucs in difficult down-and-distance situations throughout the game. "(Martin) is an outstanding running back," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We knew (stopping him) was going to be one of our 'musts,' and I thought we did a nice job with our run defense. I thought we played the run extremely well, controlled the line of scrimmage." The Falcons pulled it off by committing to stopping the run, playing defenders near the line of scrimmage, and knowing Martin's elusiveness and propensity for big plays. "He's a tough guy to tackle," LB Sean Weatherspoon said. "He's like a big muscle." But the Falcons won the physical battle at the line of scrimmage and also used tactical measures. "They loaded the box and kind of did a lot outside of their tendencies," QB Josh Freeman said. "I think all in all, when you contain a guy who is as explosive as Doug is, that's saying a lot." Said Bucs LG Jeremy Zuttah: "They did some things pressurewise that you have to kind of see and anticipate, and we have to do a better job getting to the second level (and blocking)." Martin entered the game with 1,000 yards and was the NFL's third-leading rusher. In his previous five games, he averaged 135.4 rushing yards per game.

. The Bucs entered the game as one of the best teams in the league in turning takeaways into touchdowns, ranking third in points off turnovers (83). But the two times Tampa Bay took the ball away from the Falcons, it had to settle for field goals, a big reason it lost by one point. After S Ronde Barber's second-quarter interception gave the Bucs the ball at the Falcons 31-yard line, their drive stalled at the goal line. They failed to capitalize on first and goal at the 3. After CB E.J. Biggers' fourth-quarter sack/forced fumble put Tampa Bay on the Atlanta 36, the Bucs failed to pick up a first down and settled for a 48-yard field goal. "They gave us two turnovers, put us in prime position, and we just couldn't get the touchdowns," QB Josh Freeman said. "Way too many field goals." Said WR Mike Williams: "We've got to finish."

WR Mike Williams said he had never attempted a pass in a game — ever — until Sunday. • That's when he converted on a Bucs trick play in the second quarter and helped set up a Connor Barth field goal that tied the score at 10. The Bucs had taken over on the Atlanta 31 after a Ronde Barber interception, and on the first play, QB Josh Freeman threw a lateral to Williams along the left sideline. It looked like a quick screen, but Williams pulled up and threw to wide open WR Vincent Jackson for a 28-yard completion that put Tampa Bay on the 3. Jackson might have scored had Williams hit him in stride. • "It was wide open," Williams said. "I was supposed to lead (Jackson) a little bit, but I didn't want to overthrow it, he was so wide open. I tried to stick it on him." • The play had been in the playbook since Week 1 and something they've practiced, Williams said. • "When he called it in the huddle, I was shocked," Williams said. "I didn't see it coming. But it was a good play."

Johnson comes up short

. This time last year, Leonard Johnson (left) was preparing for his next Big 12 foe as a senior at Iowa State. On Sunday, he had a little more on his plate. With the Bucs down a man because top CB Eric Wright was out with an Achilles injury, Johnson got his second career start. Unfortunately for the undrafted rookie, Falcons WR Julio Jones played despite a sore right ankle. Jones went on to better Johnson, catching an 80-yard third-quarter TD pass that left Johnson assessing what went wrong. The Falcons spotted the one-on-one coverage, leaving it to Johnson to stay step for step with Jones. Johnson did, for a while. But Johnson's technique flaws allowed Jones to put distance between them, and QB Matt Ryan's pass down the sideline was on point. "I should have played my technique a little better," Johnson said. "That would have put me at an advantage. I played (Jones) tough all day." It was the kind of matchup and coverage the Falcons were looking for. S Ronde Barber, playing on Johnson's side of the field, was watching TE Tony Gonzalez in the middle and drifted in that direction. That left Johnson by himself.

Ryan eludes rush

. Falcons QB Matt Ryan threw just six incomplete passes Sunday out of 32 attempts. And nearly every one of those passes was made before a Bucs defender was within reach of him. It was a frustrating day for the Bucs' defensive line, which struggled to pressure Ryan. "With (the Falcons), the (receiver) is already determined before he takes the snap," DE Michael Bennett said. DE Da'Quan Bowers said, "Matt Ryan is a high-caliber quarterback, and he puts them in the right situation all the time. They did a great job protecting him. We couldn't even get to him." Ryan is perhaps the biggest reason the Falcons sit at 10-1. He is having a career season and Sunday showed how dominant he can be. Ryan threw for 353 yards on 26-of-32 passing for a 110.0 QB rating. The Bucs were leery about blitzing Ryan often, knowing that doing so would leave their vulnerable secondary in a difficult predicament. One particular blitz was successful, with CB E.J. Biggers causing a sack and fumble by Ryan in the fourth. But other than that, the Bucs didn't make life particularly tough for Ryan. And that's usually a losing proposition. Beyond the sack, the Bucs registered just one quarterback hit.

Ryan on the mark

. Falcons QB Matt Ryan posted a season-high 81.3 completion percentage (26-of-32). Ryan's average throw distance was 6.6 yards downfield, and the short throws led to high efficiency. Ryan finished 20-of-23 for 182 yards on throws of 10 yards or fewer downfield, setting season highs in completion percentage and yards per attempt on those throws. He finished 10-of-14 for 194 yards and a touchdown throwing outside the numbers, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones.

Matt Ryan passing throws 10 yards or fewer this season:

1st 10 gms Sunday

Comp pct 72.2 87.0 *

Yds/att 5.6 7.9*

Att/30-yd play 91.0 23.0

* Season high Source: ESPN Stats & Info

Quick hits

. Doug Martin became the first Bucs player with 1,000-plus rushing yards and nine-plus rushing TDs in a season since Errict Rhett in 1995.

. The Bucs were trying to win five straight for the first time since 2002 (their Super Bowl season).

     
     
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