Then Derrick Brooks took matters into his own hands.
Brooks, always at his best against the Falcons, forced a fumble by Vick with just over a minute to go, leading to Matt Bryant’s 45-yard field goal that gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a 30-27 victory Sunday.
The Bucs (7-3) moved into a tie for first in the NFC South with Carolina, which lost 13-3 at Chicago. The Falcons (6-4) remained one game back in the hotly contested division after their second straight loss at home.
“That was a gritty game, man,” Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said. “Two equally matched teams. There’s big plays all over the field when we two play each other.”
Brooks came up with the biggest play of all after Carnell “Cadillac” Williams scored on a 9-yard run to tie the game at 27 with 1:55 remaining.
Four plays later, Bryant kicked his winning field goal with 42 seconds remaining.
Vick, who threw for 306 yards in just the second 300-yard game of his career, wasn’t sure what happened.
“I don’t know if Warrick hit the ball or if Derrick Brooks hit the ball,” Vick said. “We fought back. We were able to make plays. We just didn’t win the game. That’s what matters most.”
Brooks didn’t know if he got a hand on the ball, either, speculating that he may have knocked Dunn into the quarterback, which caused the fumble.
This much was clear: The Bucs recovered and got an important division win on the road.
“We’re going to creep out of here very humbly,” Brooks said.
Atlanta fell behind 13-0, then moved the ball at will against Tampa Bay’s highly ranked defense. Vick led five straight scoring possessions, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins that gave the Falcons a 27-20 lead with 7:36 remaining.
Vick was at his best on third down. The Falcons converted 11-of-17—many of them in long-yardage situations—against a team that ranked second in the league in that category, allowing a measly 29.6 percent success rate.
After Williams’ touchdown, Atlanta got the ball back at its 20 with plenty of time and all three timeouts. Vick connected with Dunn on an 11-yard pass, then Dunn broke several tackles for an 8-yard run. But Brooks broke through to mess things up.
“I don’t care about stats,” Vick said. “I don’t care how many yards I pass for as long as we win.”
After the fumble, Vick drove the Falcons to the Tampa Bay 37 with 5 seconds remaining. Michael Koenen attempted a 55-yard field goal on the final play, but couldn’t duplicate a 58-yarder he made on his only other attempt this season.
Koenen, who normally handles the punting and kickoff duties, is also used on long field goals because he has a much stronger leg than Todd Peterson. His kick had plenty of distance but sailed wide of the right upright.
“I hit it good. I hit it solid,” Koenen said. “I just pushed it a little bit.”
Bryant kicked three field goals for the Bucs, including a pair of 45-yarders.
Tampa Bay surrendered 443 yards, but came up with two huge defensive plays. With Vick on the sideline after being shaken up on a sack, Simeon Rice blew right by his blocker and knocked the ball out of Matt Schaub’s hand. Anthony McFarland fell on it for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
The Bucs added another field goal before Atlanta got rolling. Vick started out 2-of-8, but finished 21-of-38. Dunn rushed for 82 yards and T.J. Duckett had 51, including a short touchdown run. Rookie Roddy White had four catches for a career-high 108 yards—only the second 100-yard game of the year for a Falcons receiver. Michael Jenkins and Alge Crumpler each caught a touchdown pass.
“Mike threw some balls that took your breath away,” Rice said.
It wasn’t enough against Tampa Bay, which managed to win with just 258 yards on offense. Williams was the catalyst with 116 yards on 19 carries.
Joey Galloway, third in the league in both yards receiving and touchdown catches, was held without a reception by the Falcons.
The Falcons got off to a miserable start for the second week in a row. They fell behind Green Bay 14-0 midway through the first quarter and went on to a 33-25 loss. … Four of Tampa Bay’s wins have been by a total of nine points. … Conversely, Atlanta has lost three times by three points, two of them on last-minute field goals.