TAMPA, Fla. – No one has led more late game-winning drives during the past five seasons than Matt Ryan, who has kept the Atlanta Falcons flying high with five fourth-quarter rallies this year alone.
Matty Ice did it again Sunday, throwing for 353 yards and overcoming two critical turnovers to stop Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak with a 24-23 victory.
The Falcons (10-1) kept pace with the Houston Texans for the NFL’s best record, and Ryan had plenty of help in withstanding a challenge from the up-and-coming Buccaneers (6-5).
“They are playing with a lot of confidence,” said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. “It’s always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team.”
Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another strong finish from their quarterback.
Ryan obliged by a leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.
Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that’s helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a slow start ended when Josh Freeman’s desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play.
The Falcons won’t have long to celebrate this one. The host the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in a rematch of the only game they’ve lost.
“Ten-and-1 is great, but I’ll tell you what I’ve said since the beginning of the season: We’re just jockeying for position,” Gonzalez said.
Doug Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard runs for the Bucs. However, the rookie who began the day leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage was limited to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Barth kicked field goals of 22, 42 and 48 yards, the latter giving the Bucs their six-point lead after cornerback E.J. Biggers sacked Ryan to force a fumble. Ryan threw a second-quarter interception — his sixth pick in two weeks — that led to Barth’s field goal that made it 10-10 at the half.
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.
Ryan started the game with 10 straight completions before Ronde Barber’s interception and 28-yard return to the Atlanta 31 led to Barth’s first field goal.
The Falcons drove to the Tampa Bay 4 in the closing seconds of the half, but wasted an opportunity to regain the lead when Matt Bryant hooked a 22-yard field-goal attempt wide left as time expired. The Atlanta kicker missed a 48-yarder with 8 seconds left, giving the Bucs one more chance to pull out what would have been their first signature victory under first-year coach Greg Schiano.
A big factor in the outcome was Atlanta holding the Bucs to field goals after each of Ryan’s turnovers.