Published November 25, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. – Connor Barth came up short on a 56-yard field goal attempt that might have helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons. It was the three field goals he made earlier in the game that bothered them more.
If they could have turned one of them into a touchdown, they might be celebrating their fifth straight win instead of bemoaning a 24-23 loss Sunday.
"It's hard to win games by threes," coach Greg Schiano said. "Sevens add up considerably quicker."
The Bucs settled for field goals after gaining a first down at the Atlanta 3-yard line in the first half; after a 13-play drive early in the second half; and after a fumble recovery set them up at the Atlanta 36 in the fourth quarter. Ronde Barber's 47th career interception set up the first field goal.
"Our defense coming into this game versus a team with that many weapons, I know they did a great job," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "They gave us two turnovers, put us up in prime position and we just couldn't get the touchdown. Kicked way too many field goals."
Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and overcame two critical turnovers by leading another late touchdown drive to rally the Falcons to their 10th victory in 11 games.
Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the NFC South leaders found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown. Then, E.J. Biggers forced a fumble by Ryan to set up Barth's 48-yard field goal that put the Falcons in catchup mode with 10 minutes to go.
Michael Turner's 3-yard TD run put Atlanta ahead for good with 7:55 left.
Barth missed the 56-yard kick in the closing minutes, and the Bucs' four-game winning streak ended when Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone with no time remaining.
Schiano wouldn't second-guess himself on the long field-goal attempt.
"There's thoughts of pinning them down (with a punt)," he said. "There's thoughts of going for it on fourth (down). There were thoughts that we've made a field goal from longer than that. ... And, the wind was coming from the ship (behind the Bucs), so the reason we did it is my confidence in Connor, and I still have confidence.
"Again, it was one of those missed opportunities. It's a tall order, but I think we have one of the best kickers in the NFL."
The win enabled the Falcons (10-1) to keep pace with Houston for the NFL's best record. Doug Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard runs for the Bucs, but the rookie who began the day leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage was limited to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.
"But that's not the main issue," Freeman said. "The main issue is not scoring enough. It's driving down and going off the field with three points rather than with seven."
Ryan completed 26 of 32 passes, including four straight on the drive that Turner finished with his TD run. Jacquizz Rodgers had a 5-yard TD run in the first quarter, and Jones finished with six receptions for 147 yards despite playing on a sore right ankle that limited him in practice.
Freeman finished 19 of 30 for 256 yards. Vincent Jackson had five catches for 96 yards.
The Bucs also had a two-turnover advantage, bringing them to plus-11 for the season, but all of it left them one point short.
"There were some missed opportunities, offensively and defensively and in the kicking game," Schiano said. "We haven't been making all of them, but we've been making a lot of them. Today, we only made some of them."
Notes: Falcons starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (head) left with injuries in the third quarter. ... Barber, who made his 210th straight start to tie Jim Otto for the seventh-most consecutive starts in NFL history, has 47 career interceptions. ... Martin has 1,050 yards rushing yards, eighth-most in a season by a Tampa Bay running back. ... Gonzalez had five receptions for 62 yards, and Roddy White had six for 57 yards for Atlanta.
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