The Falcons needed a late goal-line stand to deny the Bucs an opportunity to set a franchise record with a sixth consecutive road victory. After LeGarrette Blount was ruled down at the 2 on a third-and-3 play from the Atlanta 4-yard line, S Thomas DeCoud knifed in from the left side on fourth down, stopping Blount for no gain.
Several Bucs believed Blount received a bad spot on the third-down run up the middle, but Tampa Bay did not challenge the ruling. And with the play clock running down after the controversial spot, the Bucs were forced to burn their final timeout to avoid a 5-yard penalty.
"I'm surprised we didn't get a measurement on third down,'' LT Donald Penn said. "That's all I have to say.''On fourth down, DeCoud got to Blount before he could gather momentum.
"I had a good idea where the play was going,'' DeCoud said. "I came in clean, unscathed. Blount's a big boy, but I got him down. That game was a slobber-knocker. We took a couple of punches to the chin, but at the end, we made more plays than they did.''
Penn and CB Aqib Talib faced imposing challenges Sunday and both players stepped up. Talib shadowed WR Roddy White most of the day and held the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for October to four catches for 49 yards, although White missed part of the game with a knee contusion.
DE John Abraham, who came into the game with as many sacks (6) as the Bucs as a team, was limited to two tackles and rarely came close to hounding Freeman. "I didn't think it would come down to the last minutes,'' Abraham said. "You have to give Tampa Bay a lot of credit — they showed a lot of resolve today. They had some breaks turn their way and so did we. We just had the last one.''
Freeman hadn't thrown an interception in a month before the Falcons picked him off twice. He opened the second half by floating a pass over the middle as DE Kroy Biermann capitalized on Tampa Bay's empty backfield to apply pressure.
In the fourth quarter, CB Brent Grimes stepped in front of a sideline pass intended for rookie WR Mike Williams, who was targeted on 10 of Freeman's 22 attempts. "We kept hearing all week about Freeman, but our defense made the big plays today,'' said Falcons WR Michael Jenkins, a former standout at Leto High. "That game had a little bit of everything.''
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan improved to 17-1 in the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons have beaten the Bucs in the past four matchups by a combined total of 22 points.
Bucs rookie Dekoda Watson played extensively in the second half for OLB Quincy Black, posting two stops.
The Falcons drove 61, 99 and 72 yards on their first three possessions, racking up five first downs in each march.
Rookie DT Al Woods, just signed off the Pittsburgh practice squad on Wednesday, made his NFL regular season debut. Woods backed up starters Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller and finished with one tackle. Woods is the 15th rookie to appear in a game for the Buccaneers this year.
Rookie WR Preston Parker gained seven yards on a fourth-quarter receiver screen that was ruled a rush. It was his first touch on offense in a regular-season game.