- Devonta Freeman ran with attitude, and lifted the Falcons to a key win for their playoff hopes on a night where the Buccaneers came to play spoiler.
Three thoughts from the Falcons' tight 24-21 win over the Buccaneers:
1. Devonta Freeman ran the ball angry on Monday night. The Falcons running back dealt some serious punishment against the Buccaneers’ defenders, especially the safeties. On Freeman’s biggest run of the night, though, he used his shiftiness to his advantage instead. Atlanta faced third-and-2 on Tampa’s 33-yard line, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called for a toss sweep—a play that had been successful against the Buccaneers earlier the game. Once Freeman had the ball in his hands, he scampered to the end zone untouched, highlighted by a lethal juke that broke the ankles of safety Keith Tandy. Overall, the fourth-year bruiser was the team’s leading rusher and receiver. Freeman ran for 126 yards and that score on 22 carries (5.7 YPC) and added 68 yards through the air on five grabs. His only issue on the night was ball security, but let’s talk about that a little later.
2. Give the Buccaneers some credit. Despite battling a rash of injuries, they had a chance to play spoiler by the end of the game. Tampa Bay came into the contest without Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Vernon Hargreaves unable to suit up—a huge hill to climb on that side of the ball. Throughout the game, the Buccaneers announced 10 different players had suffered injuries. Ten! They overcame a 10-point deficit in the middle of the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game at the buzzer. Continuing a trend of recent history, however, Patrick Murray missed a 54-yard field as time expired.
Fun—or depressing if you’re a Bucs fan—fact: After cutting Matt Bryant following the 2008 season, Tampa has used eight different kickers and has the worst field-goal percentage over that span. Bryant, meanwhile, has drilled his field goals at greater than an 86 percent rate in six of his nine seasons with the Falcons. He’s 27-of-32 this season, including a 57-yard attempt he nailed on Monday night.
3. In a three-point game, it certainly helps to get some good fortune. The Falcons certainly received their fair share of fumble luck. There were four fumbles in the game, and Atlanta recovered three of them. The first one came when Freeman fumbled at the one-yard line, but it resulted in a touchdown after Levine Toilolo fell on the pigskin in the end zone. A few minutes later, Buccaneers tailback Peyton Barber fumbled at the Atlanta five-yard line, a brutal finish to an 11-play, 87-yard drive. In the fourth quarter, Freeman fumbled again with his team up three, and it was Falcons offensive lineman Ryan Schraeder who ended up with possession of the ball. That was the first play of a drive that turned into the long Freeman touchdown run that gave the Buccaneers a deficit they were ultimately unable to overcome.
The Falcons have now won five of their last six games. Currently 9-5, Atlanta would win the NFC South if it beats the Saints on the road and the Panthers in its final two games of the regular season. Lose in New Orleans, though, and the Falcons will need to beat the Panthers to fend off the potential likes of the Cowboys, Lions and Seahawks for the final playoff spot in the conference.