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Falcons vs. Buccaneers recap: An uneven effort, a missed field goal, and a big win

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Atlanta’s got this whole ugly winning business down to a science.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Honestly, the ending of this game felt pre-ordained. The Falcons were going to let the Buccaneers march down the field down just three points, and somehow there was going to be a penalty, a missed field goal, a turnover, or a literal act of God to ensure the Falcons held on to their win. This is what these Falcons do in 2017, and they did not disappoint.

I could describe my feelings toward this game as deeply ambivalent. Taken in a vacuum, it was a divisional road win that featured a huge effort on the ground, and a year from now all we’ll really remember is that this was close and the team’s critical ninth win of the season. If you get even a little bit granular, though, you see that this was not Atlanta’s best effort, and in fact was sort of a compilation of all their worst habits and mistakes throughout the year.

This game had, in no particular order, dreadfully weak pass defense, an inconsistent pass rush, missed Matt Ryan throws, dropped balls, fumbles, a blocked field goal, and reams and reams of penalties that made things much harder than they needed to be. The beauty of it is that they hung around, stayed ahead, and burned enough clock at the end of the game that Tampa Bay fell short. They’ve become quite good at making sure it comes down to the end of the game, when other teams seem to go to pieces.

The Falcons have become remarkably adept at winning games they would have lost in any other year in recent memory, and I think we’re well past the point where we just have to accept that this 2017 Falcons team is as resilient as Dan Quinn wants it to be and as undisciplined as he feared it might be. Where that leaves them on New Year’s Day or even February, I don’t know, but I’ll continue to try to enjoy the ride when it’s not driving me crazy.

The W matters. It puts the Falcons in a position to make the playoffs for certain if they win one of their final two games, and there may even be a path for them if they lose both of them. A three point win that raises all kinds of questions is still a hell of a lot bette

On to the full recap, below, which is slightly shorter than usual because I need sleep to live.

The Good

  • Matt Ryan inexplicably scrambles really well some games, and this was evidently one of them. While he didn’t have his finest game through the air, he was very efficient there and had his numbers deflated by a couple of costly drops, but as usual he was a magician with his legs. As usual.
  • Devonta Freeman did what he always does when faced with a halfway decent matchup: Exploited it. Free consistently made positive plays happen, piling up over 100 yards and scoring on a bonkers 32 yard touchdown where he broke some men in half. It’s easy to forget, particularly when he’s fumbling, but Freeman is a flat out amazing player. He even did well receiving, leading the team on a night where they desperately needed him to.
  • The Falcons just ran the ball incredibly well against the Buccaneers, which makes sense when you consider Tampa Bay’s injury issues. Terron Ward was ripping off huge gains, Ryan scrambled well, and Freeman was his usual terrific self.
  • Levine Toilolo continues to be hilariously great 1-2 times per game. Here, it was when he scooped up a Devonta Freeman fumble on the goal line to get a touchdown. He just always seems to be there right when he needs to be, like an unreliable but still magical wizard.
  • Justin Hardy had two pretty catches on the team’s first touchdown drive, and I continue to wonder what this offense might look like if they could get him the ball a little bit more often. If nothing else, he’s proven to be a reliable red zone option.
  • Takk McKinley’s still making big plays late in his rookie season. This time around, it was a sack of Jameis Winston (and a forced fumble, though Atlanta didn’t recover) to close out the first half and snuff any Tampa Bay hopes of a big score before the break.
  • Ricardo Allen just quietly plays well, almost always. He would’ve had a pick on Jameis Winston if the Alford hadn’t gotten popped with a penalty.

The Ugly

  • Devonta Freeman fumbled twice in this one, and was bailed out both times by quick-thinking, quick-moving teammates who were able to recover them. That plus some bad drops by this receiving corps will have you cringing, and I know I did.
  • I really have no idea what Steve Sarkisian is doing, sometimes. He called one of his worst games in several weeks, with this team running repeatedly on second and long (which almost never works), dialing up a deep pass on 3rd and 2 (which also rarely seems to work), and then tossing three straight passes inside the red zone when the ground game is what got you there. I strongly believe this offense will be better a year from now, but it’s obvious Sark has a lot of growing to do for Atlanta to get there.
  • The defense has had some very good games and some very bad games, but this one was lousy enough to confirm everything you might have thought about them. Jameis Winston is a good quarterback and Mike Evans is a tough matchup, but Winston absolutely diced the pass defense up all night, with every member of the secondary getting roasted at least once before the night was over. Combined with a pass rush that only intermittently got pressure, a run defense that had occasional lapses, and an interception wiped out by yet another penalty, and you’ve got a recipe for a rough game. The Falcons endured one, and luckily came out of it on the other side, but it should never have been this difficult or this close.
  • Stop getting penalties.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Devonta Freeman by a wide margin. Free put up 194 yards and a touchdown on 27 touches, and you don’t have to be good at math to know that’s a spectacular night.

One Takeaway

The Falcons just aren’t going to make this whole thing easy for us the rest of the way, one way or another.

Next Week

The Falcons stay on the road and play the Saints in New Orleans. It’s a big, pivotal game for Atlanta, which can clinch a playoff spot with a victory, and for the Saints, who don’t want to lose to the Falcons again. Visit Canal Street Chronicles for more.

Final Word