3 Keys to Victory
Something strange has happened to the Bucs in their past two games. After building sizeable leads against Seattle and Miami, they suddenly lost their vigor. Boom, vanished, gone. Just like that. Even CB Darrelle Revis noticed it. This sudden loss of intensity was most likely a result of some players — and maybe even some coaches — simply thinking the game was in hand. But the Bucs were quickly reminded that no game is in hand until the final whistle. Tampa Bay must keep that in mind today. Though struggling this year, the Falcons are capable of building on a small lead or mounting a late game-winning rally. That means the Bucs need with intensity from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, no matter the score.
STICK WITH WHAT WORKS
The Bucs appear to have found a groove with their running game. They ran well in Seattle (205 yards) two weeks ago and against Miami (140 yards) on Monday despite having to lean on reserves Brian Leonard and Bobby Rainey. The Falcons have the league's 27th-ranked run defense. Without injured LB Sean Weatherspoon in the middle, Atlanta's defense became vulnerable to a power rushing attack. And S William Moore, usually a reliable run stopper, has missed eight tackles in his past six games, according to ProFootballFocus. Leonard and Rainey might not be household names but, even with Weatherspoon coming back today, they should be able to take advantage of a struggling rush defense.
TAKE AWAY THE MIDDLE
To no one's surprise, the absence of WR Julio Jones has had a devastating effect on the Falcons' passing attack. In particular, it has made it difficult, if not impossible, to throw deep. The recent return of Roddy White from injury should help, but Atlanta has become reliant on short and intermediate passes. That's usually not a problem with a tight end such as Tony Gonzalez, but Falcons QB Matt Ryan has not been particularly sharp in recent weeks. He threw three touchdowns and seven interceptions in the past three games, all losses. The Bucs can keep that trend going if they limit Ryan's options in the middle of the field, force him to hold the ball and pressure him. Ryan is still one of the best quarterbacks in the game. But, like any other passer, he struggles when his time and options are limited.
Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez vs. Bucs defensive back seven
Gonzalez isn't just one of the best tight ends in the league, he is one of the best players in the league. Still. At 37, what he's lost in speed he makes up for with veteran savvy. He still has a knack for finding holes in defenses and never seems to drop a pass. Even with a sore toe, he figures to pose a problem for the Bucs. As Gonzalez has grown older, opponents have attempted to control him with their fastest linebacker or most physical safety, and the Bucs might do the same. Tampa Bay also has the option of putting CB Darrelle Revis on Gonzalez, and that's the matchup fans should hope to see at times. A battle of two of the game's best players is always worth watching and might even allow the Bucs to eliminate Gonzalez as a passing target.
The Bucs were a pretty loose bunch even when they were losing every week. But it seemed they were forcing things a bit, simply putting on a good face. Now, the light atmosphere in the locker room is far more genuine. It's odd, but after beating Miami last week, the team seems as if it has finally escaped from some long, horrible ordeal — which it has — and been granted a new lease on life. As they went about their business this week, on the field and off, the Bucs seemed like a different team. Their confidence took a big hit during the losing streak, but that confidence is clearly back now. The Bucs seem to believe they are truly capable of proving the first half of their season was an anomaly, not the norm. We'll soon see if that's really the case.
5 Questions with cornerback Michael Adams
Q: You played six years in Arizona and started only seven games. How did you keep from getting frustrated?
A: It wasn't really frustrating. The checks kept coming. You play to get paid. At the end of the day, I've got to feed my family.
Q: What's the biggest hit you've made on a football field?
A: I caught Chris Johnson one time on the sidelines. We were playing the Titans and I caught him on a screen play. He turned around and I was right there in his face. It was real nice.
Q: What kind of student were you in high school?
A: I was an athlete-student. I did just enough so I could play sports.
Q: Favorite subject?
Q: What was it like covering Larry Fitzgerald in practice all those years in Arizona?
A: It was cool. Fitz is a pretty good guy and a heck of a player. He kind of reminds me of (Bucs WR) Vincent Jackson. I owe Larry some thanks because going against him every day, it made me into a better football player.
Bucs hang on again to win another close one.
A talented Bucs defense is starting to come together.