Bucs-Falcons: 5 Plays That Made A Difference
Falcons coach Mike Smith needed only three plays to make his first rookie mistake Sunday. On a third-and-15 play from his own 18-yard line, Smith allowed his play-caller (we assume it was coordinator Mike Mularkey) to call for a pass play against the Bucs' nickel defense. The play wouldn't have worked even if its intended receiver, Harry Douglas, had caught the ball. When Douglas let the ball slip through his hands, though, the Falcons became married to the disaster they courted on that play. Rookie Aqib Talib only ran 2 yards after recording his first NFL interception but that was enough to set up the Bucs' first touchdown.

The Bucs were moving the ball pretty well early in the second quarter, but a couple of poor Brian Griese throws threatened to thwart their drive, leaving them with a third-and-10 play at the Falcons' 20. Brian Griese stepped back into the pocket on a quarterback option play and he clearly chose the right option, dishing a shovel pass to Warrick Dunn, who ran 12 yards to the 8. A couple of penalties slowed the drive but Dunn eventually finished the scoring opportunity he created by running for 17 yards on a third-and-goal play to give the Bucs a 14-0 lead.

Having missed on his first seven pass attempts, Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan already was having a pretty bad day when he set up to run a third-and-10 play from his own 22-yard line early in the second quarter. Pass No. 8 only made young Ryan's day worse. Whether Mike Jenkins ran the wrong route or Ryan threw to the wrong route is immaterial. What matters is Ryan threw directly into the hands of Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli, who returned the ball 22 yards to the Falcons' 17-yard line. Three plays later, Matt Bryant kicked a 33-yard field goal to push Tampa Bay's edge to 17-0.

The Falcons finally got their offense going in the third quarter. After yet another three-and-out to start the period they moved the ball from their own 16-yard line to the Bucs' 6 in 13 plays. Facing a critical third-and-3 play, the Falcons ran Jerious Norwood on a sweep to the left. It wasn't a bad call, because just about everyone with the Bucs followed the Falcons' blocking pattern, which went to the right. Everyone that is except Tanard Jackson. Reading the play perfectly, Jackson poured into the Falcons secondary and stuffed Norwood for a 3-yard loss to the 9, forcing Atlanta to settle for a field goal.

Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey were at it again late in the fourth quarter, this time with the Falcons in position to finally make a game of it. And they probably would have, had the call on first-and-goal from the Bucs' 4 been something other than a quarterback draw. But with Ryan taking several steps back before taking one forward, the best he could do on a play that DT Jimmy Wilkerson quickly read was settle for a 3-yard loss. That saddled the Falcons with second- and eventually third-and-goal from the 7, and when two pass plays failed to get the desired results, the Falcons laid down for a meaningless field goal.

Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 15 September 2008