Nullified TD Thwarts Comeback
Derrick Brooks thought he had changed the game's complexion until he saw all that yellow. Tampa Bay's nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker had just completed an apparent 63-yard interception return for a touchdown that would have sliced Atlanta's lead to 14-10 midway through the third quarter. But officials flagged LB Ryan Nece for an illegal block against Warrick Dunn, a call that enraged the Bucs, nullified Brooks' eighth career TD and instead gave Tampa Bay possession at midfield.

"I thought it was a really bad call," said Bucs MLB Shelton Quarles, who returned to the starting lineup after missing the opener with a groin injury. "That's the kind of luck we're having right now."

Tampa Bay's ensuing drive ended with one of Matt Bryant's two missed field goal attempts and the Bucs were held scoreless the rest of the way in a 14-3 setback. "That was a tough call," said Nece, who registered one of three sacks against Michael Vick. "The refs see what they see. It was a huge play, the kind of play that makes an impact."

Dunn ran for 134 yards against his former teammates, but his biggest contribution may have been falling down after Brooks picked off Vick's underthrown pass intended for TE Alge Crumpler. "I was there and I saw Derrick, so I just really tried to brace," Dunn said. "I tried to take him out at the legs. I fell on my stomach and [Nece] hit me in the back."

The interception was one of Vick's few mistakes Sunday. He ran for 127 yards, completed 10 of 15 pass attempts and helped the Falcons keep possession for 34:09. "That flag against Ryan was [crap]," said CB Brian Kelly, who was listed as probable during the week before missing his first start since 2003. "That call turned the whole game around, but Vick was definitely on his game. He was poised and he made good decisions. You hate to catch him on days like that."

Injury update
Juran Bolden opened at left corner in place of Kelly, sidelined by turf toe in his left foot. Dan Buenning returned to left guard after missing Tampa Bay's opener with an ankle sprain and rookie Andrew Economos handled the long snapping chores with veteran Dave Moore out with bruised ribs and a collapsed lung. "I went out before the game and tried to see if I could go," said Kelly, whose torn pectoral in 2003 sidelined him for the final 11 games. "We'll see how I feel this week. This was anybody's game, but we just couldn't make the big play."

Quarles has missed only nine games since joining the Bucs in 1997 and he was eager to return. "I felt all right out there," he said. "It was a bad outcome today, but it was good to be back."

Kicking woes
The east end zone of the Georgia Dome resembled the NFL's version of the Bermuda Triangle on Sunday, swallowing up field goal attempts on both sides. Bryant missed wide right from 45 and 43 yards, but he got off easy compared with Atlanta's Michael Koenen, who was looking for a place to hide after misfiring three times and seeing a fourth attempt blocked by Bucs DE Dewayne White. Yes, the same Dewayne White who blocked a Todd Peterson chip-shot field goal attempt in overtime last year at Raymond James Stadium as the Bucs knocked Atlanta out of the playoff chase. "It was just one of those days," said Bryant, who beat the Falcons twice in 2005 with clutch field goals. "I just missed 'em."

Running well
The Falcons have played well in most areas en route to a 2-0 start, but the lopsided rushing statistics tell a compelling tale. In beating the Panthers and Bucs, Atlanta has compiled a 558-105 advantage on the ground. "It's a cliche in the NFL that if you can run the ball and stop the run, you'll win," Mora said. "It's a cliche, but it's also true."

They'll be back
According to Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall, who recorded two of the three picks against Chris Simms, the Bucs are far from done despite two early division losses. "Those guys will call a meeting and they will get things fixed," said Hall, whose 57-yard return on his final interception sealed the win. "That's still a good football team over there."

Team notes
Even with Sunday’s loss, the Buccaneers have won seven of their last nine road openers, dating back to the 1999 season. The only other defeat in that stretch was the first game of 2004, a 16-10 loss to Washington at FedEx Field. Since ’99, the Bucs have won road openers, in order, against Philadelphia, New England, Dallas, Baltimore, Philadelphia again and Atlanta.

The Bucs had their three-game winning streak against Atlanta snapped with the loss. However, Tampa Bay has won 10 of its last 13 against the Falcons and six of its last eight in the Georgia Dome.

The deactivation of TE Dave Moore (rib injury) allowed LB Derrick Brooks to catch Moore on the Bucs’ all-time games played list. Brooks played in his 178th Buccaneer game on Sunday in Atlanta – he has never missed a game in his 11-plus seasons with the team – tying Moore for second on the list. Both players are now just five games behind T Paul Gruber (183) for first place in team history. Brooks is also just eight games behind Gruber on the franchise’s career starts list, 183 to 175.

Rookie T Jeremy Trueblood saw his first action on offense early in Sunday’s game. Trueblood came in as an eligible third tight end on a heavy run-blocking play. Williams ran to the other side for no gain on the snap.

WR Joey Galloway’s 55-yard reception in the third quarter was the Bucs’ first completion of 50 or more yards since November 6, 2005. That was also a Galloway grab, a 50-yard touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

The Tampa Tribune 18 September 2006