The Blowout Bowl. Atlanta entered this game with the number five seed still needing a victory to seal, so they came to play. Tampa Bay entered this game with nothing at stake, with no reason to play, and with pride long since evaporated away from the season. The results were predictable, as the Falcons steam rolled their way to a 42-0 lead before putting backups into the game in the second quarter.
In the end the Buccaneers were able to claw their way back to within three scores in the fourth quarter, thanks to some Falcons mistakes and the cumulative weight of passing against garbage time defenses. The truth is that the end result of 45-24 dramatically flatters a team that was frankly embarrassing for much of the game.
If Raheem Morris wasn’t already for the chopping block heading into this game, he was a dead man walking at halftime.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
The Prop Bet has a Victor!
Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson and veteran corner Ronde Barber have been going back and forth all season in some kind of side bet on who can miss the most tackles, either that or they’re both just abysmal tacklers. However, this game saw a definitive victor emerge here. Jackson staked his claim early, missing a tackle on the first defensive snap of the game, and adding two more before being shown the bench. Barber had yet to miss one before he left the field with a broken forearm. Jackson ends the season two ahead of Barber (24 to 22), with both players 1-2, leading the league in missed tackles. The truly tragic part is hearing announcers tell you how well Jackson has played in his short time back from suspension and John Lynch was busy telling us what a high level Barber was still playing at in his advancing years. Bottom line is both of these guys have been pathetic tacklers this season, by any measure, and the best thing that can be said about it is that now they can’t miss any more until next season.
The Davin Joseph Thing
I’ll start by giving you the good news from the Buccaneers right guard. Davin Joseph had a perfect game in pass protection, and that is very good given the volume of passing that Tampa Bay was forced into. In 50 snaps pass protecting he didn’t allow a single pressure and that earned him a +1.9 grade for his pass blocking. He ended the game with a -0.9 grade overall however, and it is because of his performance in the run game. On the very first snap of the game he was beaten badly to the outside by Corey Peters who made the stop for a short gain. Just a few snaps later he was beaten badly again, this time on a pull block to the left where the man he attempted to block this time was able to bring down the runner behind the line of scrimmage. Joseph single handedly put the Bucs in a hole and behind the 8-ball on these drives. Before people proclaim his Pro Bowl status they need to take account of plays like this, which over the season are placing him below average.
Defense Needed, Call 1-800-HELP!!!
If we put aside the good performance from Michael Bennett (+1.4), Tampa Bay’s best defender over the season, the Bucs defense was in disarray to put it mildly. The linebackers of Quincy Black (-2.1), Geno Hayes (-3.9) and Mason Foster (-3.1) were simply overwhelmed by the Atlanta offense. Tampa Bay has been losing bodies at defensive tackle all season long and the linebackers simply can’t deal with linemen being allowed to get through to them at the second level and have their way. Tampa-style linebackers are quicker and smaller, and are at their best when they have big bodies up front that can tie up blockers and allow them to flow to the football. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay just did not have that in this game. All three of the linebackers were comprehensively dealt with and walled out of running plays every time a big body came near them. This is an issue the Bucs will have to deal with moving forward.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
The Risk and Reward of the Falcons Receivers
Atlanta rolled the dice in a major way this offseason, trading a king’s ransom to move up and select Julio Jones to pair opposite Roddy White. The reasoning being that White would benefit with a legitimate threat on the other side and Jones would bring the big-play threat that had been missing from the Atlanta offense. This would help them keep up with the high-octane teams like the Saints and Packers in 2011. To an extent that worked, and you can see the benefit on plays like either of Jones’ touchdowns in this game, as he is capable of high-pointing the ball, defeating defenders in a contest, and then outrunning and outmuscling them to the end zone. The trouble however, comes by dropped passes. White (15) and Jones (8) have both had their struggles with drops this season, White in volume and Jones more in timing, and those are plays that they need to be making to really pay off their investment. White had a pair of drops in this game contributing to his -0.4 grade for the day. Jones didn’t have any, and his touchdowns helped him earn a +2.5 grade.
Curtis Lofton (+4.5) showed up in a big way for the Falcons in this game, despite playing all 66 snaps on defense when plenty of the starters were resting on the sidelines with the game well in hand. Lofton kept his concentration to make plays all game long, even deep into garbage time. His interception was less of a great play, and more a product of watching Kellen Winslow run right over the running back that was supposed to end up directly in front of Lofton. The collision between the Bucs’ players left Lofton standing waiting for the pass that was thrown directly to him. He then made a quick and decisive move outside to take it to the house. Lofton was thrown at 11 times and allowed nine receptions, but for just 67 yards as he kept everything in front of him and stopped a couple of plays short of the first down markers.
Falcons Look After John Abraham
So complete was the blowout that the Falcons were able to take their usual precautions of limiting Abraham’s snaps to extremes. He played just 27 defensive snaps, or 40.9% of the defensive snaps the Falcons had in the game, but he earned himself a +2.8 grade even in such limited duty. Abraham’s best play came with 19 seconds left in the 1st quarter when he was able to beat right tackle James Lee inside immediately to sack Josh Freeman. Recognizing that he had a free run to the passer instead of simply delivering a hit, Abraham dived right at the ball, ripping it out in the act of the sack for a forced fumble and take away. In truth, his grade could have been even higher but for a defensive offsides penalty that took away another near instant sack and forced fumble. Abraham timed the snap to complete perfection, but appeared to be lined up ever so slightly ahead of the rest of the D-line in the neutral zone, negating the play.
– Despite the game well in hand and Atlanta rolling reserves in all over the field, Julio Jones and Roddy White played 44 and 48 of a possible 59 snaps respectively.
– On passes over 20 yards Josh Freeman was 1-4 for 22 yards and an interception.
– Tampa Bay missed 17 tackles in this game, making it 169 for the season.
Michael Turner – He didn’t get a mention earlier, but a pounding runner combined with tackling ineptitude is always going to equal some epic results. When the dust settled 172 yards, two touchdowns and nine missed tackles forced were the final tally for Turner.