Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Sunday, November 25, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Falcons 24, Buccaneers 23

By Pat Yasinskas


TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons24-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: The Falcons are 10-1, sitting high atop the NFC South standings and still on pace for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. All that came despite yet another flawed performance. You can nitpick this team all you want, but the Falcons have double-digit wins in three consecutive seasons. For the Bucs, this was a lost opportunity. This game was winnable, and beating a good team would have put the Bucs at 7-4 and on the national radar. They’re still 6-5 and in the playoff picture, but they missed a chance to turn the corner.

Key to the game: The Falcons held running back Doug Martin to 50 yards on 21 carries (a 2.4-yard average). Atlanta’s run defense had struggled in recent weeks, but the return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who had missed the previous three games with an ankle injury, made a huge difference.

Questionable call of the day: Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano’s decision to let Connor Barth attempt a 56-yard field goal with 3:30 remaining. Yes, Barth has a strong leg, but that’s borderline range for just about any kicker. You attempt that kick in the final minute, but not when you have that much time remaining and your defense has played well all day.

Memo to Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter: Forget the running game. It hasn’t been working all season, and there was no reason to think it suddenly would click in against the league’s top-ranked run defense. Besides that, Tampa Bay was forced to play a bunch of backups at cornerback. When you have the receiving trio of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, you should throw the ball all day and not even think about running Michael Turner up the middle.

What’s next: The Falcons face a quick turnaround. They play the Saints on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome. The Buccaneers play at Denver next Sunday.