It wasn’t pretty but the Bucs now sit at 3-4 after defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome 23-20 in overtime Sunday afternoon.
The game was a roller coaster of sorts for the Buccaneers. When the Falcons were driving with the football, rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander would make a play to end their drives (twice) or Atlanta would just shoot themselves in the foot with two self-inflicted fumbles which Tampa Bay recovered — 20 of their 23 points came off of those turnovers.
But you have to give head coach Lovie Smith and the Buccaneers credit for pulling out a victory against an Atlanta Falcon team that was 6-1 heading into the game. Albeit the Bucs may have caught Atlanta during a time where many questioned their offensive play, Tampa Bay capitalized on Falcon mistakes and that can not go unnoticed.
But one has to wonder if this game will be the turning point for Smith and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Nearing the end of regulation, Smith decided to play aggressively in his own territory and go for it on 4th-and-1 with under two minutes to go. The offense would not convert but he showed an aggressive side to him we have yet to see.
“I considered punting but with a seven-point game we could have punted the ball and had to stop them or we could finish the game right then,” Smith said after the game. “I would make that call 10 out 10 times. I felt good about it for our football team. We have been going through some tough times and it was good to see that you could come through it.”
But his defense would allow for Atlanta to come back and tie the game and send it to overtime after leading 20-3 early on. It would be the second time in consecutive weeks were the Buccaneers have allowed their opponent to come back from a 17-plus point deficit to either tie the game or win — which is what happened against Washington last week.
The difference Sunday was that the defense was actually able to stop the Falcons for the victory. While a key rush by Howard Jones that got to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan may have been the reason for success on defense, it was McCoy’s play that got to Ryan’s leg to wrap him up that forced the veteran quarterback into a bad throw on fourth down and seal the deal for Tampa Bay.
McCoy was down on the ground immediately following the play in what appeared to be an expression of a lot of weight lifting off his shoulders for finally closing out a game. If it weren’t for that single play, people would be asking again if he was on the field at all. Something he has been under a lot of scrutiny for.
The question now is, can the Bucs carry this emotional victory and ride a wave of success throughout the rest of 2015. It’s hard to tell at the moment. The Bucs defense is still in bad shape as they surrendered nearly 500 yards of offense and could have been a lot more if it weren’t for the turnovers. They also allowed the Falcons to control the game for nearly two-thirds of it.
However, credit is deserved for both men that have been criticized for their play and coaching. They turned corners on Sunday by being aggressive and making a play when it was so desperately needed. Now it’s up to them to continue.