Falcons Knocked To Earth After Winning Streak
The Tampa Tribune, published 9 December 2002

With no need for a shower or a massage, Warrick Dunn slumped in his chair, slicing through the adhesive tape that wrapped around his tender right foot. Hampered by a high ankle sprain, Atlanta's versatile tailback never left the sideline to face his former teammates during Sunday's 34-10 loss to the Bucs. The Falcons missed Dunn's big-play potential and he missed an opportunity to make Tampa Bay defenders think twice about focusing almost exclusively on quarterback Michael Vick.

`It was tough to watch because so much was at stake,'' Dunn said after Atlanta's eight-game unbeaten streak ended decisively. ``That turnover [Dexter Jackson's interception] absolutely killed us because that made it 14-0 and that's a huge hole against that defense. Tampa Bay was up for the challenge today, especially Brad Johnson. Every time a Buc receiver turned around, the ball was right in his hands.''

Joe Jurevicius did much of the damage with eight receptions for 100 yards, including a pair of second-quarter touchdown catches. ``They did a good job of hiding that guy on us,'' veteran cornerback Ray Buchanan said. ``He was running pick routes and slants and the refs let him push off on us. We couldn't get to Johnson and Jon Gruden had a great game plan against our man coverage. If we see them again, and I hope we do, we'll probably have to mix in some more zone against those guys.''

The Falcons (8-4-1) had allowed more than 20 points only four times in 12 games before the Bucs carved them up with a balanced attack that generated 421 yards and 22 first downs. Beginning with a late first- quarter drive, Tampa Bay scored on six of eight possessions. ``They just outplayed us, pure and simple,'' cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. ``It's a little humbling because it's been eight weeks since we've been on the short end. Brad Johnson was outstanding. Every ball was right there and his receivers were catching everything. We had a golden opportunity to go into first place, but hey, we won two of three on the road and we'll be fine.''

Brian Finneran, who had 15 receptions in his previous three games, was no factor with two catches for 3 yards. Vick averaged only 5 yards per pass attempt and Atlanta converted three of 12 third-down situations. ``Mike didn't have enough time to throw and we were in third-and-long all day,'' Finneran said. ``Their defensive guys up front keep working all day long and this game was like a slap in the face.''

Center Todd McClure credited the Bucs with a complete performance. ``That's the best defense this league has to offer,'' McClure said. ``And there's no mystery involved. They stay with what they do and they do it so well. The Bucs were on all cylinders today.''

Now the Falcons must regroup, knowing Tampa Bay dusted them twice. ``The Bucs were a significantly better team in every way,'' Atlanta owner Arthur Blank said. ``Brad Johnson was on fire and the team that should have won today was rewarded with the victory. It was well-deserved.''