TAMPA — The Falcons made it a point to run the ball early Sunday against Tampa Bay, which entered the game with the NFL’s No. 1 run defense.
On their opening driving, they repeatedly pounded running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers at the Buccaneers and it paid off.
“We felt like we needed to try it,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith after the 24-23 win. “We felt like we could do it, too. We challenged our guys. We wanted to come down here — this was the No. 1 rushing team in all of the NFL — and we wanted to see if we could do it.”
The Falcons ran the ball eight times on their opening 12-play drive. Turner had four carries for 14 yards and Rodgers had four carries for 32 yards. Those 46 yards were more than half what the Bucs had been yielding per game.
“We were efficient doing it,” Smith said.
That drive stalled and Matt Bryant came on to make a 31-yard field goal.
The Falcons finished the game with 24 rushes for 79 yards (3.3 per carry) and Rodgers and Turner both scored rushing touchdowns. The Bucs entered the game giving up 81.8 yards per game.
Turner had 13 carries for 17 yards. Rodgers finished with 49 yards on 10 carries.
“We wanted to come out and try to get something going on the ground,” Turner said. “We didn’t want to be one-dimensional today and I think we caught them off-guard a little bit, coming in with so many run plays.”
Close contest: While the Falcons have dominated the series with Tampa Bay recently, winning seven of the last eight games, the outcomes have normally been close. With the exception of last season’s regular season finale, a 45-24 Atlanta win, the average margin of victory in the other seven games has been four points.
“You can always count on close games when you come down to play an NFC South game and that was no exception today,” Smith said. “I thought it was a very hard-fought game. I thought our defense did an outstanding job, again. They were put in some tough situations after turnovers and I thought our special teams did a very nice job covering kicks today.”
The Bucs last beat the Falcons 16-13 on Sept. 26, 2011 in Tampa.
“They won four in a row, they were hot,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “Everyone was saying they were the hottest team in the NFC South and they probably were. … When you win close games like that, it’s only a positive.”
Finishing the drive: Guarding a one-point lead, the Falcons ran off 3:19 on their final drive. Tampa Bay got one last possession but with only eight seconds remaining.
“That last drive, that’s something we’ve done before this season,” Gonzalez said. “I really think that’s a positive for us, to be able to come up with plays when we have to like that, to close the game out.”
Kicking woes: Kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goal attempts of 22 and 48 yards against the Bucs. He also missed two against Dallas on Nov. 4.
Sack attack: Cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end Kroy Biermann each had a sack Sunday.
John Abraham, who has nine sacks this year, was shut out. He has just one sack in his last seven games against Tampa Bay.
Injury report: Robinson (head) and cornerback Asante Samuel (right shoulder) both temporarily left the game due to injury, but both returned to the action.
Also, defensive tackle Corey Peters (right shoulder) left the game, but returned.
Inactive players: Defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who had started nine games this season, was declared inactive the Tampa Bay game.
Jerry’s spot on the active roster was taken by rookie Travian Robertson. He has been active for six games, but played in just one (San Diego on Sept. 23).
Other inactives included quarterback Dominique Davis, wide receiver Tim Toone, safety Charles Mitchell, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn and defensive end Lawrence Sidbury.
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