Barber gets shut out
Ronde Barber appeared to have ended his drought. Ever since his rookie season in 1997, when he played in just one game, the Bucs' interception leader has had at least two picks in each season. He entered the final game of 2009 without any, but that appeared to change with 7:20 left in the second quarter.
Barber picked off Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who tried to go deep to WR Michael Jenkins off a flea-flicker play. But Barber was flagged for defensive holding — on what appeared to be a questionable call — wiping out the interception.
"Picks don't drive me," Barber said. "The guy that's leading the league in picks right now (Saints S Darren Sharper) had one last year. … If more picks would have helped us win, then I'm all for that." That doesn't mean Barber wasn't annoyed by the result of the play. "I didn't understand the call," he said.
"(The official) said if he would have called illegal contact, they would have picked the flag up because the play started as a running play. So it was holding. I don't understand." Barber will turn 35 in April and seems to be leaning toward coming back for another season but believes the decision ultimately won't be up to him.
"That won't be a Ronde Barber decision," he said. "That'll be a Raheem Morris, Mark Dominik and Claudia Barber (his wife) decision."
Falcons run at will
The Falcons played without starting RB Michael Turner, but they still ran the ball 37 times. After an impressive performance in the first half, the Bucs defense broke down against backup RB Jason Snelling, who ran for 131 yards after halftime. And he didn't collect those yards as one might expect, using a handful of breakaway runs. He instead took them in small chunks as the defense bled slowly. Snelling's longest run was 22 yards.
"Until the end, they had a bunch of those 4- and 5-yard gains, but they keep adding up," Bucs LB Barrett Ruud said. "It was definitely frustrating. We didn't play poorly, but we weren't quite sound enough. Against that team, you have to knock the run out and make them one-dimensional. We didn't do that (Sunday)."
It was vintage Falcons. "That's the type of football the Falcons like to play," said Snelling, who got his first 100-yard game with 147 yards. Bucs LB Geno Hayes had a simple answer when asked to explain. "We missed tackles; it's that simple," he said. "There's no excuse for that."
Long day for Penn
The good news for T Donald Penn, left, is that the knee injury he suffered in the fourth quarter wasn't as serious as he initially feared. Penn said afterward that the knee appeared structurally sound but still was too wobbly for him to return.
The not-so-good news is that Penn again had a shaky performance against Falcons DE John Abraham. "Abraham is always giving me trouble, and I accept it," Penn said. "I've always said that."
Abraham didn't record a sack, something of which Penn was proud, but the Falcons star did manage to harass QB Josh Freeman on several occasions, forcing him to throw under duress. Unlike in the teams' past meetings, Abraham dipped inside rather than rushing mostly on the edge.
"He did some stuff that he hasn't done all year," Penn said. "He went inside a lot. In watching film and in all my studies and when playing him, he didn't do that. I guess he saw something in us that he could capitalize on. Their line moves a lot, and they were doing a lot of moving. We weren't able to pick it up as successfully as we wanted."
Abraham finished with a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
The Bucs blocked their sixth kick of the season, finishing one shy of tying a club record. This time, it was S Corey Lynch, who broke through and swatted former Bucs K Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 40 yards in the third quarter.
Lynch had two blocks this season and has developed into something of a specialist. "I was between the wing and the end," Lynch said. "I saw they were (lined up) kind of wide, so I went through the gap.
"One of my blocks in college (at Appalachian State) was exactly the same. We were playing Furman, and it was the exact same score. As soon as we blocked it, we ran up the score right after that. It's just a huge momentum change. It gives people life, and it gives the team life. Unfortunately, it didn't exactly do that (Sunday)."
The Bucs did get a temporary lift from Lynch's block. They scored their only touchdown on the ensuing possession.
Matt Bryant made 2 of 3 field goals in his return to Raymond James Stadium, where he became the Bucs' most accurate kicker in his four-year stint before getting cut in the preseason. Bryant, 34, played for the United Football League's Florida Tuskers before signing with the Falcons on Dec. 1, acknowledged some odd feelings upon his homecoming.
"It was a little weird," Bryant said. "I was just glad I was able to be a part of a little bit of history with this organization. I've only been (with the Falcons for) five games, but it's been great from Day 1."
It has been an emotional holiday season for Bryant, whose father, William Bryant, died Christmas night after an 18-month battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Bryant returned to practice Thursday. He had lost his 3-month-old son, Matthew Tryson, in September 2008. "It seems like it's been one thing after another, but you've just got to kind of roll with the punches," Bryant said.
The Bucs' opponents for 2010: Home: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks, Rams, Browns, Steelers, Lions. Road: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals, 49ers, Ravens, Bengals, Redskins