Falcons end season on high note; Bucs fire Koetter
It seems almost fitting that the Atlanta Falcons would be responsible for helping the NFL set a record for the most three-point decisions in a season.
Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Falcons a 34-32 road win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the 69th win recorded by three or fewer points this season, an NFL record, and Atlanta played in four of those -- plus lost a game in overtime.
On Sunday it was a case of who had the ball last. The Bucs had taken the lead when Jameis Winston fired a 19-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin with 5:10 remaining.
That turned out to be too much time on the clock. Following a touchback, Matt Ryan drove the Falcons to the Tampa 19, where they worked the clock down to four seconds before calling on Bryant for the game-winner. On that drive, Ryan had two big completions to Julio Jones to set up the win, the last one that help overcome a 15-yard personal foul Jones had incurred for a crackback block.
Bryant, 42, finished the season by making 20 of 21 field goals and 33-for-35 on extra points. His only miss came against the Packers.
The Falcons (7-9) finished the season with three straight wins. The Bucs (5-11) lost their final four games.
After the game, Tampa Bay announced the firing of coach Dirk Koetter, who was 19-29 in his three seasons with the club.
It was another strong effort for Ryan, who completed 31 of 44 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had nine receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. Calvin Ridley had five catches and a touchdown that gave him the franchise record for touchdown receptions by a rookie (10).
But the most buzz surrounded a trick play. Mohamed Sanu threw a 5-yard option pass to Ryan for a touchdown to complete the first drive of the second half. It was the first touchdown reception for Ryan and the first by a Falcons quarterback in team history.
"My hands are pretty good. My route running is not very good," Ryan said. "That's probably the biggest thing. I had to draw back on playing for the Dowingtown Young Whippets in like third and fourth grade when I was playing tight end to go out there and make that catch."
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston also had a big day. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once, which led to an Atlanta touchdown.
Godwin and Michael Evans each had six catches -- Godwin for 114 yards, Evans for 105 -- and two touchdowns. Evans became the youngest player in NFL history to reach the 6,000 yard career receiving mark, reaching the mark at age 25 years and 131 days.
"Numbers are nice, but this is a winning league," Koetter said. "I've been fired before and I've been hired before. I know this, if you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you did everything you could, then I've no problem holding my head up."
The Falcons completed an injury-riddled season that began with high expectations. Atlanta was hoping to become the first franchise to compete in a Super Bowl as the host club. A spate of injuries to the defense and on the offensive line led to a mid-season five-game losing streak that knocked the club out of the playoffs.
"It's disappointing, but it also leads me to be optimistic for us moving forward that we have the right people and the guys that are capable of contending late into the year," Ryan said.