Falcons-Buccaneers Preview

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally put an end to their skid, but

it came far too late to salvage their season.

Things also appear lost for the Atlanta Falcons, whose last win

came against Tampa Bay four weeks ago.

The Buccaneers hope to build on their first victory and avoid a

ninth loss in 11 meetings to the visiting Falcons on Sunday.

Tampa Bay (1-8) became the league’s final team to win with

Monday’s 22-19 victory over Miami. After blowing a 15-0 lead, the

Buccaneers got the go-ahead score with Bobby Rainey’s 1-yard TD run

to cap an 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter. The defense then

sealed the win with Darrelle Revis’ interception with 1:35 to

play.

Coach Greg Schiano is optimistic his players will be able to

play more relaxed moving forward.

“Getting it out of the way, I don’t care who you are, as the

losses mount getting that (first) one win becomes harder and harder

(to get),” Schiano said. “I hope now that our guys can just go out

and play. Although they’ve said there’s no additional pressure, I

think human nature puts that pressure on yourself.”

Atlanta (2-7) hasn’t won since a 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay in

Week 7, dropping three games by a combined 61 points including a

33-10 defeat to Seattle last Sunday.

For a team that posted a 56-24 regular-season record over the

last five years under coach Mike Smith – second only to New England

– being all but eliminated from the playoff hunt is an unfamiliar

spot for the Falcons. Smith received some criticism for leaving

quarterback Matt Ryan and other stars in late against the Seahawks

despite the lopsided deficit.

However, he isn’t so ready to surrender despite the fact that

Atlanta only clings to a minute chance of reaching the

playoffs.

“This season is not over,” said Smith, whose previous worst

record was 9-7 in 2009. “I know people want to say doom and gloom.

That’s not the case. We’ve not played the type of football that

we’d like to play in the first nine games. It is well below our

expectations and we’re going to continue to work and get ready to

play the Buccaneers.”

The Falcons have been ineffective on the ground in the last

three weeks despite the return of Steven Jackson, averaging 56.3

rushing yards per game as a team with no scores. A knee injury to

left tackle Sam Baker hasn’t helped their cause.

Atlanta, which averages an NFL-worst 64.3 rushing yards, was

held to 18 yards on 18 carries last month against Tampa Bay.

“The thing about it is you have to keep chipping away. No one is

going to come in the locker room and save us. We have to save

ourselves. … We can’t dwell on it,” said Jackson, who was held to

11 yards on nine carries against Seattle. “One thing about being a

professional, you have to acknowledge the things you made a mistake

on and move on to the next one.”

The lack of an effective running attack and big deficits have

also left more pressure on Ryan and the passing game. Ryan has

posted a 61.6 passer rating over his last three games with three

TDs and seven interceptions.

Perhaps facing Tampa Bay can help him get back on track given he

was 20 of 26 for 273 yards and three TDs in the first meeting.

Unlike Atlanta, the Buccaneers’ running game appears to be

heading in the right direction. Although Mike James broke his ankle

Monday to join Doug Martin as the team’s second back to suffer a

season-ending injury, Brian Leonard and Rainey proved to be a

potent duo, combining for 102 yards on 28 carries. Tampa Bay was

coming off a season-high 205 rushing yards against Seattle.

The Falcons should be bolstered by the expected return of

linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who hasn’t played since Week 2.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez’s status is still uncertain after he

momentarily left Sunday’s contest due to a toe injury.

Atlanta will be without running back Jason Snelling after he was

arrested early Friday morning on misdemeanor charges of marijuana

possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Smith made the announcement Saturday, saying he was

”disappointed in what has transpired over the last 48 hours.”