The Falcons managed to dig themselves out of yet another second-half deficit to win 24-23 in Tampa Bay on Sunday. They overcame two Matt Ryan turnovers in Atlanta territory, two dropped interceptions, two missed field goals, and numerous injuries to key defensive players to improve to 10-1 and give themselves a four-game division lead with five games to play. It's the seventh game this season the Falcons have won by seven points or less, the most in the NFL, according to ESPN stats and info.
Ryan's staggering offensive numbers continue to pile up. He threw for 353 yards -- his fourth-straight 300-plus yard game -- and connected with WR Julio Jones on an 80-yard touchdown pass for the Falcons' longest play of the year. Jones finished with a career-high 147 yards on six catches, giving the Falcons their seventh 100-yard receiver in the past five games since the bye week. RB Jacquizz Rodgers may have assumed the role of the Falcons' top back with 10 rushes for 49 yards and a score and two receptions for 30 yards. Michael Turner, who had the go-ahead touchdown, had just 17 yards. Previous game's grade: D+
The Falcons defense settled down after a 10-play, 88-yard drive on the Bucs' opening series, which saw RB Doug Martin rush for 25 yards and a touchdown. Martin, who scored again in the fourth quarter, had just 25 more rushing yards the rest of the day, finishing with his second-lowest total of the season. The defense battled through injuries in both its defensive line and secondary and held Tampa Bay to two field goals after turnovers in Atlanta's territory. Asante Samuel did drop two potential interceptions, though. Previous game's grade: A-
Special teams: C-
For the first time all season, K Matt Bryant looked unsteady. He shanked a 22-yard kick wide left just before halftime and then missed a late-game 48-yard attempt that would've given Atlanta a four-point lead. He's now 26 for 31 this season. Rodgers added to his outstanding overall day with a 43-yard kickoff return following the Bucs' last field goal in the fourth quarter. Previous game's grade: B-
Mike Smith managed the game well, using all three timeouts at various points during Atlanta's final drive in the first half, but Bryant just missed the kick that would have broken the 10-10 tie. The Falcons still rely too much on Turner in short-yardage sets and need to find a niche for him within the offense because right now there isn't one. Rodgers is quicker, more elusive, and is a better pass-catcher than Turner will ever be. Credit the staff for recognizing that and making Rodgers a bigger part of the offensive game plan. Previous game's grade: D
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