Barber joins exclusive club
Bucs CB Ronde Barber notched a sack when he blitzed from his slot position and decked Falcons QB Chris Redman from his blind side in the third quarter.
It was Barber's 25th career sack, putting him in a category with only one other player. Former S Rodney Harrison and Barber are the only players with at least 25 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. Harrison had 301/2 sacks and 34 interceptions.
Barber leads all active defensive backs in sacks. Broncos S Brian Dawkins trails him with 21.
Pass rush returns
The Bucs matched a season high with six sacks, including a combined four from DEs Tim Crowder (11/2) and Stylez White (21/2). The disappointing part was that the pass rush couldn't affect the game when it mattered most: on the Falcons' winning drive.
QB Chris Redman, playing for injured starter Matt Ryan, had seven completions on the drive.
"They're not going to sit back there and let him drop five or seven steps when we're getting hits on him like that," White said. "We have to try and get there with a three-step drop. I know it's hard, but he did a great job of getting it out. Kudos to them."
Before the final drive, Redman was under duress for most of the day. He was hit eight times, including the five sacks (Ryan was sacked once), often with a great deal of force.
Crowder was responsible for three of those hits. He is beginning to emerge as a contributor for the defensive line, despite being picked up off the street after his release by the Broncos in September. The 2007 second-round draft pick's playing has steadily increased.
"We got a lot of pressure on him (Sunday)," Crowder said of Redman. "We made him work. … We just didn't get to him on that last drive."
Injuries mount on both sides
The Bucs didn't get any breaks with injuries. WR Michael Clayton sprained his left knee on the Bucs' first possession. Clayton, while engaged with and blocking a defender, had an offensive lineman fall on him from the side. That impact twisted his knee awkwardly and prevented him from returning. He will be examined further today. "I don't think anything's torn because it eventually felt a little better," Clayton said. "I tried to shake it off, but I couldn't go." Meanwhile, things got messy in the secondary. CB Aqib Talib went down with a hamstring injury. He tried stretching it out but was unable to run, he said. That forced little-known CB Derrick Roberson and already-injured CB Elbert Mack (ankle) onto the field for the Falcons' winning drive. Backup CB Torrie Cox, who started as the nickel back, was carted off the field with a hip injury, but no details were available. P Dirk Johnson injured a hamstring on a failed fake punt in the fourth quarter and will require more medical attention this week. Finally, DE Stylez White suffered a hand injury of undetermined severity, but X-rays didn't appear to reveal any broken bones. He'll be looked at today as well. It wasn't a pleasant day for Atlanta with injuries, either. The Falcons lost QB Matt Ryan with what was referred to as a turf toe injury on his right foot in the first quarter after being sacked by White and DE Tim Crowder. He did not return and was in street clothes before the game ended. Falcons RB Michael Turner reinjured his right ankle, aggravating a high sprain, and he could face a long recovery.
After the worst game of his brief career a week ago against the Saints, Bucs rookie QB Josh Freeman recovered to finish 20-of-29 for 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. "I wouldn't call it a bounce back," said Freeman, who was 17-of-33 with three interceptions against the Saints. "Last week, I had an off week. This week, I played close … to the level I want to play at." Freeman was off on some of his hot throws (against the blitz), but he said there were things to build on. "(The Falcons) did a good job of mixing up the blitzes and making it so that I had to get (the ball) out," he said. "A couple times, I was a little inaccurate because I was trying to get it out quickly. That's definitely something I need to go back and work on." The day's highlight was Freeman's 42-yard touchdown to WR Antonio Bryant, a play on which he appeared to underthrow the receiver. Turns out, that was by design. "(Bryant) got off his guy, threw his hand up, and I gave him a chance to make a great play," Freeman said. "It was one of those things where I had the defender's back to me, and the last thing I wanted to do was overthrow it because we felt like we had a touchdown. I didn't want to have it sail out of bounds, have it sail too far. I just wanted to give A.B. a chance to make a play on the ball, and he was able to do that." Bryant came back to the ball, took it out of the air and lunged into the end zone.
About the last thing Bucs K Connor Barth, below, thought he'd be doing was punting from his own end zone. But that's the predicament he found himself in after P Dirk Johnson injured a hamstring. Barth came through big, though. He had a 46-yard kick on his first punt since high school, getting the Bucs out of trouble. "I was glad I could help the team," he said. "It was spur of the moment. In that situation, you just let it go and see what happens. I've done it before, but I haven't done it in a long time. The main thing is (teammates) blocked real well for me, so I didn't feel any pressure. I just got it out of there." Fortunately, Barth didn't have to punt again. But he did have to perform another task: the one he gets paid for. "My job is to kick field goals," he said. Unfortunately, he missed his kick from 51 yards with 2:34 left that would have extended the Bucs' lead to seven points. That gave the Falcons possession at their 41, setting up the winning touchdown. Barth had plenty of distance, but the kicked sailed just wide to the right. "I hit it good," Barth said. "It just went right. The distance was good, but it stayed right down the hash (mark). I didn't hit it to the middle. I'm not going to make every one of them, but that was a great opportunity. I wish I could have capitalized."
Bryant wants the (deep) ball
The Bucs offense started a bit quicker than normal, getting things going with an impressive first half — including 129 total yards in the second quarter alone. After halftime, however, it could be argued that the play-calling became a bit conservative (the exception being the failed fake punt). While the Bucs did throw the ball, they did not throw deep, despite early success. And WR Antonio Bryant — who had catches of 38 and 42 yards on consecutive plays in the second quarter — definitely noticed. "Last year, I came out here (in Atlanta) and had 100 yards in the first half," Bryant said. "This year, two catches, 80 yards in the first half. In the second half, it's like, 'Come on!' Look, man, when you get the ball, those are the results you get. Look, Roddy White dropped balls. (Michael Jenkins) dropped balls. I got four attempts and still came up big. I have to make everything count because, obviously, something ain't right." Bryant's two long catches were the only balls thrown his way in the first half. He was targeted twice in the second half, catching one pass for 11 yards. Bryant suggested in no uncertain terms that offensive coordinator Greg Olson should have more faith in QB Josh Freeman to make downfield plays, especially in a game in which the lead was never more than seven points. "We have to go and trust our guy a little more," Bryant said. "He has the talent. On a 1-10 team, you've got to go. … You've sat here and seen this man make every throw an NFL quarterback could possibly make the first time he got in against Green Bay. When you have guys there, you have to put your foot on their neck and just stomp."