Wait a minute: A close game, and we lost? Not possible. Sadly enough, the Buccaneers were unable to complete their fifth 4th quarter comeback of the season and fell 27-21 to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The Bucs spotted their opponents a 14 point lead in the first quarter, only to close the gap numerous times that eventually culminated in the game's final drive. However they were unable to close the deal and complete the fightback and fell to 5-3 on the season. There were plenty of talking points from the game against the Falcons, so let's take a look at how each unit fared in Sunday's narrow defeat.
Considering the amount of time the Bucs had to work with, the offense performed admirably well in a hostile road atmosphere. Although Josh Freeman threw a pair of interceptions that made the task of overcoming a double-digit deficit even more difficult, they were able to move the football down the field with relative ease. All in all, the offensive line did well and there is little to criticize from the unit as a whole. I rarely attack referees and calls, but there was a call near the end of the game that may have changed the outcome. The pass interference call that set up the Bucs at the 11 clearly occurred at about the 5 yard line. I watched the replay numerous times and cannot see how the referees could place it at the 11. If anyone can correct me I'd like to hear the justification. This is a major difference, and of course something neither commentator picked up this clear error. Although this was one of Freeman's worst games this season, he was able to lead the team down at the end of the game and give them a chance to win in the 4th quarter. He also made a number of big plays, including a perfect throw to Michael Spurlock while backed up at the 1 yard line. The running game was disappointing, but because the Falcons held the football for so long it's understandable. The Bucs only ran 50 plays on offense, compared to 69 for Atlanta. I think offensive coordinator Greg Olsen has found a perfect balance between his running backs. LeGarrette Blount continues to get most of the carries while Carnell Williams gets a handful of attempts while doing an excellent job in pass protection.
Yet another enigmatic performance by the Buccaneers defense. They had major issues stopping the Falcons offense in the first half (the issue being they couldn't stop them at all) and the only reason why the game was close at halftime was because Atlanta ran a ball control offense that aimed at wearing the defense down over the course of a long drive. However as the game went on the Bucs were able to get a few stops when the Falcons threatened to add to their lead. The pass rush was nonexistent, and the sack total remains at 6 through 8 games this season. They were unable to stop Michael Turner from churning out the necessary yards on each play, which was invaluable from a Falcons point of view because his runs constantly extended drives. The Buccaneers will have to do better the next time these two teams meet. The defense should face a much easier task next week against a severely weakened Carolina Panthers squad.
Special Teams: A
Great bounce back effort from the special teams unit. The coverages were solid and there were no snafu's in the kicking game. The star of the game for the Buccaneers on Sunday has to be Michael Spurlock. His big time returns kept the team in contention when it appeared that the Falcons were about to put the game away. The Falcons sported a solid special teams group entering the game, and the Buccaneers were a threat on returns all afternoon. The attempted onside kick almost worked, and was certainly a gutsy decision at that point in the game. Although the game turned into a field position battle after that, its understandable to take a risk considering how the game was evolving. The Bucs had yet to prove they could stop Atlanta from putting up points, so coaching tried to get the ball back to the offense in an attempt to grab the lead. Overall, easily the unit's best performance of the season.
At the end of the day, the Buccaneers had a great chance to move to 6-2. They trailed by 6 points and had the ball at the 11 yard line on first down with about 3 minutes left. I would have certainly signed up with this scenario before this game started. Bucs Nation wanted to see the Buccaneers compete with one of the big boys of the conference and they did just that. Questioning the playcall, execution, etc. is a waste of energy at this point. The media will continue to write about how much more they know than the coaches and players of course, completely ignoring the fact most in the organization put in thousands of hours in an attempt to perfect their craft. Point being, the Bucs are working as hard as any team in the league to field a competitive team to make their town proud (within a very limited budget), and this is exactly what they are doing at this point in time.
There are a few questions I want to pose to Bucs Nation. In the second half of 2009, the defensive performance improved in a major way in comparison to the first half, giving up about 21 points over the season's final 8 games. However the Bucs are currently yielding about 24 points per game halfway through 2010. How would Bucs Nation compare last year's defense to this years? Has any progress been made? Regression? Is the offense stepping up masking the teams defensive weaknesses?