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New Year’s Day means a change in lifestyle for many people. Not so much for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their losing ways, however. The Bucs (4-12) laid an absolute egg in the first half in Atlanta and fell 45-24 to the Falcons (10-6) – Tampa Bay’s 10th loss in a row to close out a miserable season that ironically began with a promising 4-2 start.
“If I was in the business of working out my future, I wouldn’t be coaching,” said Raheem Morris shortly after. “I’m going to go to work tomorrow until they tell me to stop.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what management told him to do on Monday. Unable to win a game since October 16th, Morris was fired after 3 years as the Bucs head coach. A 42-0 first half lead for the Falcons pretty much sealed his fate.
Aware that a Lions loss in Green Bay would give them an opportunity to clinch the 5th playoff seed, Atlanta held nothing back from the get-go. By the time the Packers had defeated the Lions 45-41, the Falcons entered the 2nd quarter with a commanding 21-0 lead.
Matt Ryan touchdown passes of 17 and 48 yards to rookie receiver Julio Jones on the second and third Falcons’ possessions of the game, respectively, put Atlanta up three scores following a one yard rushing touchdown by rookie Jacquizz Rodgers to open the game. The first of Josh Freeman’s three interceptions set up Ryan’s second and final touchdown pass of the game.
Atlanta put up just as many points in the 2nd quarter. A Freeman fumble put the Falcons at the Tampa 30, and Michael Turner finished off the drive with a one yard touchdown run on 4th and goal to make it 28-0. Turner would add an 81 yard sprint to the end zone on Atlanta’s next possession after scoring on a 26 yard Curtis Lofton pick six.
Freeman struggled mightily yet again, turning the ball over a total of 4 times. His counterpart’s day was the exact opposite scenario. With a 35 point lead just before halftime, and a team record of 42 points in one half, Falcons coach Mike Smith had the luxury of sitting Ryan for the rest of the game after just 9 passing attempts.
Ryan also set the Falcons single season franchise record for passing yardage. With just 106 yards he totaled 4,177 on the year, breaking Jeff George’s 1995 mark. “We had opportunities the week before and just didn’t make the plays,” Ryan said. “Today, we made the plays and I think that’s what we needed moving forward.”
The Falcons were only able to add one more field goal in the 2nd half with Chris Redman taking snaps. This was of no concern for Atlanta though, as Tampa Bay fell three touchdowns short with just two touchdowns and a field goal for the remainder of the game. The Falcons will now head to New Jersey for a 1 p.m. Wild Card showdown with the Giants. They hope to rebound after a disappointing divisional round loss to Green Bay last year despite being the number one overall seed after a 13-3 record.
“Honestly, I’ve said it all year: I think we’re a better team than we were last year,” Gonzalez said. This is only the first time in Falcons history that they have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Now that the Bucs’ spiraling downfall has finally come to an end, they will search for a new head coach before seeking an impactful franchise player with the 5th overall pick in the upcoming draft.
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