It looked like Josh Freeman was about to add another page to his rapidly bulging book of last minute victories, but, in the end, Raheem Morris will have to answer questions about why he didn’t put the ball in Freeman’s hands.
Trailing 27-21, the Bucs moved the ball, with some help from a pass interference on Falcons safety William Moore, all the way from their own 9 into the red zone in the fourth quarter. They had a first-and-10 from the Falcons 11 with just over five minutes to play and Morris chose to run the ball four straight times. The Falcons stuffed LaGarette Blount on fourth-and-one from the 2 and escaped with a victory over their divisional rivals.
The choice of plays is questionable on two fronts. The Bucs, outside of Freeman scrambles, had not done a very good job running the ball all afternoon, while they’d thrown for a pair of touchdowns. Freeman has made it clear that he’s their best player and you’d like to let that player decide if you win or lose when you’ve got the ball in that position.
The other question has to do with why Morris pulled out all the stops at every other point in the game before playing conservative late. With the score 27-21, Morris felt comfortable trying an onside kick at the end of the third quarter. Micheal Spurlock had just returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and Morris obviously felt it was worth going for broke in that spot. He also called a fleaflicker on the play that drew the aforementioned pass interference, so why not a little more aggression when his team was knocking on the door at the end of the fourth?
We don’t want to totally ignore the Falcons here, since they clearly helped cause the questions for Morris by shutting down the run with their backs against the wall in the final moments of the game. They got two early touchdowns from Michael Turner, a solid game from Matt Ryan and, like so many other Tampa opponents, seemed to be well in control before the game got uncomfortably close late.
Close and lost are worlds apart, obviously, so the Falcons should feel good about holding on for the home win. They have a lot of talent on offense, the defense has proven to be opportunistic and they aren’t beating themselves in games no matter how many chances they have to do just that. It might not sound like much, but that goes a long way in the NFL this season.
They are now 6-2 and a half-game up on the Saints in the NFC South. They get a short week to prepare for the Ravens on Thursday night and a win there would go a long way toward making their case for being the best team in the entire conference.