The Tampa Bay Buccaneers felt Martin Gramatica was a sure thing. That's why they drafted him in third round, and why no one was surprised by his heroics against the Atlanta Falcons.
The rookie kicker lived up to the nickname of "Automatica" he earned at Kansas State, kicking two long field goals in the fourth quarter and finishing with four in a 19-10 victory Sunday.
"I just wanted to relax and do what I had to do," said Gramatica, who grew up playing soccer in Argentina and didn't start playing football until he was a senior in high school in nearby LaBelle, Fla..
The 5-foot-8 kicker booted field goals of 24, 26, 50 and 53 yards as the Bucs overcame a 10-0 deficit before sealing the victory with a defensive touchdown in the final minute.
The win was the third straight for Tampa Bay (6-4), which has fought its way back into the NFC Central race behind the improved play of quarterback Trent Dilfer.
The Bucs, with help from Green Bay's 26-17 victory over Detroit, pulled into a three-way tie for the division lead with the Lions and idle Minnesota Vikings. Atlanta (2-8) has lost four of its last five.
"It's a six-game season now," coach Tony Dungy said, adding that one of the keys to Tampa Bay's chances finishing on top is developing more consistency on offense.
The Bucs are averaging just 15.8 points per game, and nearly went without scoring a touchdown for the third time this season.
"It's all going to come down to who wants it the most," Dungy said, "and we feel we're in position to be there at the end."
While he was far from spectacular, Dilfer was efficient enough to set up Gramatica's fourth-quarter field goals. And once again, he avoided the kinds o mistakes that led to his benching three weeks ago.
Atlanta scored on its first two possessions, building a 10-0 lead. The Falcons converted five of six third downs in the opening quarter, but went 0-for-9 the rest of the way to finish with 169 yards total offense.
"We just could not put those guys away," said Falcons safety Eugene Robinson. "We've got to seize the moment. We just left it out there dangling. We never seized it. ... That was so frustrating. It was there for the taking, and we don't want to take it."
Gramatica, a third-round draft pick who has been Tampa Bay's most consistent offensive performer, kicked his 50-yard field goal to trim Atlanta's lead to 10-9 with 5:32 to go.
Dilfer's third-down pass to Warrick Dunn set up Gramatica's last kick, a 53-yarder that put the Bucs ahead with just under a minute left. Three plays later, cornerback Donnie Abraham intercepted Chris Chandler's pass that bounced off Winslow Oliver and returned it 47 yards for a clinching TD.
Dilfer completed 15 of 31 passes for 142 yards and was intercepted once. Chandler was 14-of-25 for 109 yards with two interceptions, both by Abraham in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs turned the ball over six times in a victory over Kansas City last week and got off to another sloppy start Sunday. Dilfer's pass on the third play of the game glanced off Dunn's hands and was intercepted by Robinson to set up Tim Dwight's 8-yard touchdown run.
Morten Andersen's 28-yard field goal made it 10-0, capping a first-quarter in which the Falcons held the ball for 11:30 and Tampa Bay ran just seven plays for no yards.
Dilfer got the Bucs offense out of a hole with a 47-yard throw up the sideline to Jacquez Green, who didn't appear to get both feet in bounds before running out of bounds at the Atlanta 40. The Falcons didn't challenge the catch, and Tampa Bay scored nine plays later on Gramatica's 24-yard field goal.
The Bucs trimmed their deficit to 10-6 on Gramatica's second field goal, but were forced to work extra hard for the points on a 16-play, 51-yard drive. During the drive, they converted a fourth-and-1 and overcame two holding calls that left them facing first-and-30 from the Falcons' 44.
The drive was typical of the difficulty the Falcons had making plays that could have kept them in control.
"It's frustrating. We knew the game would be close like that," defensive tackle Travis Hall said. "We need to shut things down. Tampa Bay shut us down, three and out. We need to do that."
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