This post is an adjunct to the game column, which can be found here.
1. Jacquizz Rodgers injected some needed sizzle. Owing to his size (5-foot-6, 196 pounds), he’s often dismissed as a change-of-pace back, but his 49 yards on 10 rushes made him the star of a slightly upgraded ground game. Michael Turner had another in a series of indifferent games — 13 carries for 17 yards. On this day, however, the Falcons didn’t go as Turner goes (or doesn’t go). Rodgers gave them speed on the flanks and made the Buccaneers’ defense honor at least the concept of the run. He nearly outgained the heralded Tampa Bay tailback Doug Martin, who carried 21 times for his 50 yards. Could the Falcons have found their new feature back? It’s too early to make that leap, but this game was an indication that options exist beyond Turner.
2. Mike Smith got conservative at the end of the first half. The Falcons’ coach had his offense had his team wait until 22 seconds remained in the half to call timeout ahead of a third-and-11 play at the Tampa Bay 19. That might have been sound strategy, except that Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for 15 yards to the 4, meaning that the Falcons had cut it too fine. In trying to leave the opponent no time to respond, they left themselves too little time (15 seconds) after the conversion that didn’t yield a score. Ryan missed Jones on first-and-goal and threw it away on second down, leaving four seconds for Matt Bryant to try a 22-yard field goal for the lead. Which he missed. Ouch.
3. The same Mike Smith got daring near the end of the second half. Just when you think you’ve got Smitty pegged, he’ll make you rethink. With a minute left and the Falcons ahead by a point and the Buccaneers out of timeouts, the Falcons threw on third-and-18 from the Tampa Bay 37. An incompletion would have meant the Bucs could have gotten the ball back with roughly 50 seconds remaining. Asked if he worried about an incompletion, Matt Ryan said: “Every time I take a snap, I think I’m going to complete it.” Sure enough, he did — to Tony Gonzalez for seven yards. And now the Falcons had Bryant try a 48-yard field goal with 13 seconds left, when a pooch punt might have been the safer play. Bryant missed again, giving the Bucs the ball at their 38 with eight seconds to play. The game ended with Josh Freeman’s pass being batted away in the Falcons’ end zone. Whew.
By Mark Bradley