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3 things we learned about the Falcons

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ATLANTA — One week after squandering a 17-point halftime lead in a loss to Washington, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly melted down again. But rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and an opportunistic defense saved the day.

Winston accounted for two touchdowns and led an overtime drive that set up Connor Barth’s go-ahead, chip-shot field goal in the Buccaneers’ 23-20 upset win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Winston converted on three third downs during the drive. The game didn’t need to be that close, but this young Bucs’ squad is still learning how to finish.

Tampa Bay (3-4) was in command late in the third quarter, up 20-3, but saw the lead trimmed to seven with just two minutes to play. That’s when coach Lovie Smith gambled.

Facing a fourth down at the Bucs’ 40-yard line with two minutes to play, Smith elected to go for it. After a timeout, Winston scrambled off play-action, pump-faked and dived for the first-down marker but was stopped short by Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen.

“If we punted the ball, we were going to have to stop them,” Smith said of his decision to go for it on fourth down. “We had an opportunity to finish the game right then. I’d make that call 10 out of 10.”

The Falcons took over with no timeouts and quickly marched to the Tampa Bay 8, where quarterback Matt Ryan found wide receiver Julio Jones in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Matt Bryant’s extra point tied score and sent the game into overtime.

The Bucs went into overtime with the memories of last week’s blown lead fresh on their mind. But Barth delivered the go-ahead field goal, and Tampa Bay defensive end Howard Jones pressured Ryan on the Falcons’ ensuing drive, forcing a fourth-down incompletion to seal the win.

“We would’ve liked to finish it when we could have,” Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans said, “but getting a win is all the same. Now we know how to finish and we need to finish every game.”

Winston finished 16 of 29 passing for 177 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed for 24 yards, including a 4-yard scramble on third-and-goal that put the Buccaneers up 20-6 midway through the third quarter.

Ryan went 37 of 45 for 397 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

What we learned about the Falcons:

1. The hot start to coach Dan Quinn’s tenure is cooling quickly. After jumping out to a 5-0 start, Atlanta has lost two of three, with both losses coming against NFC South competition in New Orleans and Tampa Bay on Sunday. Even in last week’s win over Tennessee, the Falcons didn’t look good. Atlanta managed only 10 points against the Titans and had only six points late in their quarter against Tampa Bay’s defense, which entered Sunday’s game 31st in the NFL. Turnovers were the biggest culprit for Atlanta. The Falcons turned it over four times, leading to 20 Tampa Bay points. Quarterback Matt Ryan lost a fumble on a botched handoff and threw a bad interception late in the second quarter. An errant shotgun snap by center Mike Person in the Red Zone killed a Falcons drive, and wide receiver Julio Jones lost a fumble after a long completion. Atlanta also was flagged for 11 penalties for 124 yards.

2. TE Jacob Tamme is emerging as a consistent contributor in the passing game. Tamme caught 10 passes for 103 yards with a touchdown against Tampa Bay. No other receiver caught more than two passes, although running back Devonta Freeman did catch six passes out of the backfield.

3. The Atlanta defense is still looking to develop a pass-rush. Safety Ricardo Allen and linebacker O’Brien Schofield were credited with sacks, but for the most part Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston was comfortable in the pocket.

Etc.:

–CB Desmond Trufant took a hard fall trying to defend a deep pass in the third quarter. He was gingerly off the field with what was described as a lower back injury. He did not return.

–CB Robert Alford suffered a groin injury late in the second half. He was unable to return.

–RB Devonta Freeman finished with 88 yards rushing, snapping his three-game streak of eclipsing the 100-yard mark. He also caught eight passes for 43 yards.

–WR Julio Jones caught seven passes for 112 yard in the first half, but disappeared in the third quarter with only one reception. He rebounded in the fourth quarter, though, hauling in a tying touchdown pass from QB Matt Ryan with 17 seconds to play. Jones caught 12 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown.


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