ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons finally got the ball to bounce their way.
They hope that’s the start of more good fortune.
After a hugely disappointing start to season, the Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak with a 34-29 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the game ending on a wacky play that nearly worked.
With no timeouts and needing a touchdown from the Falcons 21, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston surprisingly took off running down the middle of the field. As the defense closed in at the 10, he pitched the ball to his left. Adam Humphries had it briefly but lost control. Mike Evans scooped up the loose ball and lateraled it again. DeSean Jackson had a chance to grab it at the 5 and dive for the end zone, but the ball squirted under his hands and out of bounds.
“They certainly had a shot for it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We’ve had some go the other way on the final play, so it was nice to be on the side where we were on top on the final play.”
Indeed, Atlanta (2-4) came into the game with three heartbreaking losses. They were in position to knock off Super Bowl champion Philadelphia but couldn’t complete a short pass in end zone on the final play. They lost to the Saints in overtime after giving up the tying touchdown with just over a minute remaining. They fell to Cincinnati on a 13-yard TD pass with 7 seconds to go.
This time, the Falcons benefited from some huge breaks against the Bucs (2-3). Demontae Kazee picked off a long pass at his own 1 after Winston overthrew his intended receiver. Early in the third quarter, the Bucs had first-and-goal at the Atlanta 2, but Peyton Barber was stuffed for no gain, a false start on tight end Antony Auclair backed them up to the 7, and Winston’s pass over the middle was deflected high in the air. When it finally came down, Brian Poole was there to make the interception.
“We needed that win,” Kazee said. “I’ve been depressed the past three or four weeks.”
Matt Ryan had a huge game for the Falcons, completing 31 of 41 for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Winston, in his first start of the season, was 30 of 41 for 395 yards and four touchdowns, but the two picks marred his performance.
Some issues that emerged from the Falcons victory over Tampa Bay:
These teams came in into the game ranked at the bottom of the league in points allowed.
Neither gave much indication that they’ve addressed their defensive shortcomings.
The Falcons surrendered more than 500 yards for the second time this season. The Bucs were torched for touchdowns on Atlanta’s first three possessions, then gave up two more scoring drives in the final quarter, which is sure to keep the heat on defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Matt Bryant looked like he might be in for an extended recuperation period after making a crucial 57-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining.
The 43-year-old immediately clutched the back of his right leg, limped slowly off the field and headed straight to the locker room.
While it wasn’t immediately known how seriously he was injured, Atlanta may at the very least need to bring in a second kicker this week in case Bryant can’t go in next Monday night’s game against the New York Giants.
After that, the Falcons have a bye week, which would give Bryant extra time to recover.
KAZEE GETS COMFORTABLE
Kazee is settling in as a starter in the Falcons’ injury plagued secondary.
The second-year safety has picked off passes in three straight games , the first Atlanta player to accomplish that feat since Kemal Ishmael in 2014.
Atlanta lost its top two safeties — Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen — to season-ending injuries.
Poole could be a little lighter in the wallet after delivering a big hit on Winston late in the first half.
As Winston glided toward the sideline at the end of a 5-yard run, Poole sent the quarterback flying with a shot to the chest. Tampa Bay center Ryan Jensen went after Poole, leading to some minor scuffling before order was restored.
No penalty was called for the hit, but the replay showed Poole lowered his helmet before striking Winston’s helmet. That could lead to a fine from the NFL when it reviews the play.
While the Falcons halted their three-game losing streak, Tampa Bay has now lost three in a row after a 2-0 start.
Winston said it’s too early to panic.
“Yes, it was a tough loss in the division, but we’re still in a good spot,” the quarterback said. “We have to execute better, I have to protect the football and we will win games.”
The Bucs now trail idle New Orleans (4-1) by two games in the NFC South. Carolina (3-2) also slipped back with a 23-17 loss to Washington.