By Max Luckan
In a surprising twist of events, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into Atlanta on Sunday and handed the Atlanta Falcons only their third loss of the season. While the Falcons had virtually nothing to play for, the result is still somewhat surprising. The reason being that the Falcons played all of their starters the entire game and the Bucs were still able to muster up a 22-17 victory. The Bucs, however, finish the season with a 7-9 record, having lost five games in a row before the win over the Falcons. The Falcons finish with a 13-3 record and they'll have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Bucs' coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for this win because it's obvious that, for first time in weeks, the Bucs looked prepared for this divisional matchup. While the offense didn't put up huge numbers and the defense wasn't spectacular, both sides of the ball played well against a tough Falcons team that is one of the most prolific teams through the air.
However, there were a few mishaps. The playcalling was a little shaky at times, which resulted in a closer score than it should have been. The Bucs went for a two-point conversion late in the third quarter, but failed to convert. The easier more secure option would have been going for the field goal. But overall, the coaching staff had the Bucs well prepared. Grade: B+
Quarterback Josh Freeman was able to limit his mistakes for the most part against the Falcons, and as a result, the Bucs played much better on offense than in recent weeks. Freeman completed 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown, but he only threw one interception.
Freeman was able to play well because the Bucs reestablished the running game with rookie Doug Martin, who ran for 142 yards on 28 carries. The Bucs put up 22 points, but they were able to do execute their gameplan, which is something they haven't been able to do lately. The most important thing for Freeman, who is still young, is that he finished the season off on a good note. Grade: B-
The Bucs' defense was been an interesting body this entire season. The defense finished ranked first in the NFL in rush defense, but dead last in the league in pass defense, which can be attributed to a weak, injury-riddled secondary. But against the Falcons, the Bucs were able to limit Matt Ryan to 238 yards and they only gave up 17 points.
Rookie linebacker Lavonte David continues to impress and he had another phenomenal game against Atlanta. Meanwhile, the run defense limited Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers to only 65 yards on the ground. The defense, like the offense, is very young, and it was good for them to finish strong. Grade: B
Tampa Bay is lucky to have Connor Barth as their kicker, because throughout the season, he kept the Bucs in games that could've easily gotten out of hand. Against the Falcons, Barth made all three field goals that he attempted, and helped the Bucs extend their lead that was in danger throughout the game.
But the kickoff returns will have to improve. The Bucs didn't really benefit with good field position all season long because of poor kick and punt returns. However, the special teams unit was able to block a punt by Falcons punter Matt Bosher on Sunday, which gave the Bucs good field position. Overall, the special teams unit was sort of a neutralizing factor all season long. Grade: B+
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.
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