The Falcons took a good old fashioned pasting from the Bucs, avoiding a shut out only by putting together an 82 yard drive and a touchdown pass from Atlanta QB Joey Harrington to wide receiver Adam Jennings with just over a minute left to play and practically the entire Falcons second string team on the field.
After 10 weeks of football Atlanta had ranked third in the league with a +8 turnover margin, but that rating came down considerably on Sunday as the Falcons went -2 on the day against Tampa Bay. That figure included one of the most bizarre series of the game in which there were three fumbles within a time span of 5 seconds, none of which resulted in a turnover.
Five minutes into the second quarter, Falcons QB Byron Leftwich dumped the ball off to RB Warrick Dunn on a 4 yard outlet pass. Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks hit Dunn causing a fumble which was recovered by fellow LB Cato June. But the play was challenged by Atlanta and reversed resulting in simply an incomplete pass.
On the very next snap, Leftwich again threw over the short middle, this time complete to WR Roddy White. Cato June made the hit on White causing another fumble, and Tampa Bay cornerback Brian Kelly came up with the loose football. Roddy White who had just lost the ball then tackled Kelly who spun around and tossed a lateral back to June. But while lying on the ground tangled up with Kelly, White (illegally) stuck out his foot and tripped June, who promptly fumbled into the hands of Falcons center Todd McClure, who started off the play by snapping the ball to Leftwich in the first place. End result; the officials miss the illegal trip and the Falcons get the ball back to the same guy and at the same place where the ball started out from before all the fumbling began.
The Falcons offense was abysmal, and Atlanta head coach Bobby Petrinoâ€™s decision to start Leftwich over backup QB Joey Harrington seems to have backfired big time. Leftwich had an atrocious outing, completing 15 of 28 for just 106 yards with 2 interceptions and two fumbles.
Tampa Bay meanwhile was scoring in a whole variety of flavors. Veteran QB Jeff Garcia who is third ranked in the NFL when it comes to passing plays over 40 yards pitched a couple of touchdowns, the first one a 44 yard strike midway through the first quarter to WR Joey Galloway who accounts for more than half of Tampa Bay’s receiving touchdowns this year. Next the Bucs defense hopped on the bandwagon when Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber coming full stride into the backfield collected a Leftwich fumble on the second bounce and bolted untouched into the end zone to give Tampa a 14-0 halftime lead. Not to be left out, Bucs running back Earnest Graham rushed for 102 yards, including a 26 yard touchdown run to start off the fourth quarter and give Tampa Bay a 31-0 lead.
The Falcons drop to 3-8 which doesn’t take them mathematically out of the playoffs but doesn’t give them any chance for a winning season either. Tampa Bay improves to 6-4 and takes a two game lead in the remarkably mediocre NFC South. They host the Redskins next Sunday.