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Tampa Bay at Atlanta

Bucs ride Garcia, D to flummox Falcons, embarrass Leftwich

CBSSports.com wire reports
  •  

ATLANTA -- Tampa Bay seized control of the weak NFC South with one of its trademark defensive showings.

As for the Atlanta Falcons, it's back to the drawing board at quarterback in the post-Michael Vick era.

Jeff Garcia threw for two touchdowns, Ronde Barber returned a fumble for another score and the Buccaneers' defense completely stifled the Byron Leftwich-led Falcons 31-7 Sunday, another low for a franchise trying to recover from Vick's dogfighting debacle.

Tampa Bay (6-4) allowed just 49 yards rushing, delaying former Bucs star Warrick Dunn from joining the 10,000-yard club, and scored just as many points on defense as the Falcons' inept offense.

With New Orleans and Carolina both losing and dropping to 4-6, the Bucs now hold a commanding two-game lead in the division race with six to play.

"Our defense was awesome," Garcia said. "You can't say enough about the way our defense is playing."

As for the Falcons, all the talk was about quarterback.

In a highly debatable move, first-year Falcons coach Bobby Petrino decided to start Leftwich over Joey Harrington, who led Atlanta (3-7) to a two-game winning streak while the former Jacksonville starter was recovering from ankle surgery.

But, in a decision that caught Harrington off guard, Petrino said he was sticking with Leftwich as the No. 1 signal-caller as long as he was healthy enough to play.

Boy, did that decision ever backfire on the rookie coach. Petrino now sounds as though he might go back to Harrington for Thursday night's game against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

"We've got a lot to evaluate in front of us," Petrino said. "We need to take a good look at this video and see who gives us the best opportunity to win the game Thursday. That's what we need to do. When that happens, I can't tell you."

Playing behind a short-handed offensive line, Leftwich had one of the worst games in his career, completing 15-of-28 for 106 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles. Harrington took over late in the third quarter, but it didn't matter much by then with Tampa Bay already leading 24-0.

"To be honest with you, I've never been involved with something like this," Leftwich said. "It's difficult to deal with. It should bother everybody. I know it bothers me. It should make it tough to sleep at night."

Earnest Graham ran for 102 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 31-0. Garcia didn't have to do much with the defense manhandling the Falcons; he completed 10-of-20 for 159 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown to Joey Galloway that got the Bucs rolling.

The only solace for Atlanta was avoiding its first shutout since 2005. Harrington threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Adam Jennings with 1:10 remaining and mostly backups on the field.

The Bucs were up 7-0 early in the second quarter when Leftwich tried to scramble from the pocket on his gimpy ankles and was hit from behind by Greg White, knocking the ball loose. Barber picked it up on one bounce and scooted 41 yards to the end zone without being touched.

At that point, the Georgia Dome crowd broke into chants of "Joey! Joey! Joey!" and booed Leftwich every time he came on the field.

Leftwich certainly noticed the lack of faith, though it was hard to argue with the fans' sentiments.

"Yeah, and it happened pretty early, man," he said. "Things weren't really going bad. As a player, all I can do is play my butt off and try to lead and help this football team win."

Tampa Bay was actually expecting Harrington to start. He completed 16-of-20 for 139 yards after finally getting on the field.

"We were hoping he would get in the game," Barber said. "Our whole game plan was directed at him."

Matt Bryant punched through a 23-yard field goal that made it 17-0 early in the third, and Leftwich's final play was another turnover. Gaines Adams hit the quarterback's hand from behind as he tried to throw, the ball fluttered in the air and defensive tackle Chris Hovan made a juggling interception at the Atlanta 27.

"(Leftwich) held the ball too long a couple of times, and we put pressure on him," Barber said."

Three plays later, Garcia threw off his back foot under pressure and Alex Smith made a leaping catch in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, giving the Bucs a 24-point lead and sending what was left of the crowd heading for the exits with nearly five minutes still left in the third.

Notes

  • Dunn was held to 32 yards on 15 carries and is still 26 short of 10,000.
  • The Falcons were hit hard by injuries. DT Trey Lewis appeared to sustain a season-ending knee injury, and OT Todd Weiner aggravated his left knee, which already needed surgery this season. TE Dwayne Blakley (neck, head) and DT Rod Coleman (arm, hand) also went down.
  • The Bucs deactivated RB Michael Bennett, who had played in three games with one start since being acquired from Kansas City last month in a trade.
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Byron Leftwich has a disastrous outing, leaving coach Bob Petrino open for second-guessing.
 
Byron Leftwich has a disastrous outing, leaving coach Bob Petrino open for second-guessing. (Getty Images)
 

 

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Scoring Summary
1ST QUARTER
TDJoey Galloway, 44 Yd pass from Jeff Garcia (Matt Bryant kick is good), 7:43. Drive: 3 plays, 72 yards in 1:02.
2ND QUARTER
TDRonde Barber, 41 Yd fumble return (Matt Bryant kick is good), 10:42.
3RD QUARTER
FGMatt Bryant 23 Yd, 6:35. Drive: 8 plays, 49 yards in 3:22.
TDAlex Smith, 21 Yd pass from Jeff Garcia (Matt Bryant kick is good), 4:51. Drive: 3 plays, 27 yards in 1:29.
4TH QUARTER
TDEarnest Graham, 26 Yd run (Matt Bryant kick is good), 14:53. Drive: 6 plays, 45 yards in 3:39.
TDAdam Jennings, 7 Yd pass from Joey Harrington (Morten Andersen kick is good), 1:10. Drive: 13 plays, 82 yards in 5:15.
Players of the Game

J. Harrington
Att 20
Comp 16
Yds 139
TD 1

E. Graham
Rush 17
Yds 102
Avg 6.0
TD 1
 
Tampa Bay
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
J. Garcia10/2015920
B. Gradkowski1/1200
RushingATTYDSTDLG
E. Graham17102126
M. Pittman1044021
J. Garcia2506
B. Gradkowski2-20-1
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
J. Galloway263144
A. Smith351123
M. Pittman217011
I. Hilliard114014
B. Askew1808
E. Graham1606
B. Storer1202
Atlanta
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
J. Harrington16/2013910
B. Leftwich15/2810602
RushingATTYDSTDLG
W. Dunn153206
J. Snelling21307
J. Norwood2405
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
M. Jenkins973014
L. Robinson243033
W. Dunn84009
A. Crumpler328012
R. White428011
O. Mughelli112012
A. Jennings21117
J. Norwood21008
Complete Player Stats
Other Games
TEN 20 Final
DEN 34
CHI 23 Final
SEA 30
STL 13 Final
SF 9
NYG 16 Final
DET 10
MIA 7 Final
PHI 17
PIT 16 Final
NYJ 19
OAK 22 Final
MIN 29
SD 17 Final
JAC 24
KC 10 Final
IND 13
NO 10 Final
HOU 23
CAR 17 Final
GB 31
WAS 23 Final
DAL 28
ARI 35 Final
CIN 27
NE 56 Final
BUF 10
CLE 33 Final
BAL 30