TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—For Matt Bryant, it wasn’t difficult to shrug off missing a potential game-winning field goal in overtime. He figured the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would give him a chance to redeem himself.
Or so he said.
“We’re not going to give up. It doesn’t matter. We’ll take on the world. We’ve been doing it from the beginning,” the jubilant kicker said Saturday after redeeming himself by booting a 41-yard field goal to beat Atlanta 27-24.
It nudged the Bucs closer to their first playoff berth since they won the Super Bowl three seasons ago and ellminated the Falcons from the playoffs.
“The world picked us not to be very good and we’ve managed to prove the world wrong quite a few times,” Bryant added. “We’ve just got to do it one more time to get to the playoffs.”
The Bucs (10-5) also gained a share of first place in the NFC South heading into the final week of the season. They’re tied with Carolina, which lost to Dallas on Saturday, and can win the division with a victory over New Orleans at home next week.
NFC information manager Michael Signora confirmed that Atlanta (8-7), which hosts Carolina next week, had been eliminated. After the game, team spokesman Reggie Roberts said the Falcons were still alive but would need to beat the Panthers and gets lots of help from other teams to earn a wild-card spot.
The Bucs and Falcons both wasted opportunities to win in the extra period. Atlanta’s Todd Peterson had a 28-yarder blocked after Tampa fumbled on the overtime kickoff and Bryant shanked a 27-yarder that would have won it six minutes later.
“To have the kick blocked. It kind of put everything into perspective— like maybe it just ain’t our year. Things are not going the right way for us,” Falcons quarterback Michael Vick said.
Chris Simms threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams ran for 150 yards to go over 1,000 for the season, including a 6-yard burst that tied the game 24-24 in the closing seconds of regulation.
Vick threw for 161 yards and two TDs and looked like he might conquer an old nemesis—the Bucs defense—when he led a 79-yard drive to put the Falcons ahead 24-17 on T.J. Duckett’s 2-yard run.
Vick, who is 2-5 against Tampa Bay and has had some of the worst games of his career against the Bucs, scrambled for 7 yards on 3-and-7 and threw 37 yards to Michael Jenkins on third-and-4 from the Bucs 39 to set up the score.
But for the second time in just over a month, the Falcons defense couldn’t protect a fourth-quarter lead against a Tampa Bay offense that’s shown steady improvement with Simms at quarterback and Williams putting together six 100-yard games on the ground.
Atlanta coach Jim Mora considered trying to run the clock out when the Falcons got the ball for the last time with just over two minutes left in overtime. But team officials were unable to determine how a tie would affect the club’s chances of making the playoffs.
“We couldn’t come up with a solid, solid answer, and I’m not really one to play for ties. … If someone had said: `If you tie this game and win next week, you’re in the playoffs,’ play for a tie,” Mora said.
Mark Jones returned Michael Koenen’s punt to the Bucs’ 49, and Simms launched the winning drive from there with 54 seconds remaining. He threw 15 yards to Alex Smith and 11 to Anthony Becht to move the Bucs into Bryant’s range.
A poor snap foiled Bryant’s first kick in overtime. The snap on the second try wasn’t much better, but the kicker got it through the uprights.
“I just have to keep reminding myself that that the game is officially over,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. “That was a real gut check. Things did not look for good for a while.”
Statistically, Vick had perhaps his best day against the Bucs defense last month when he threw for 306 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he still walked away frustrated after losing a fumble that set up a winning field goal for Tampa Bay in the final minute.
The Bucs have always matched up well against the Atlanta quarterback because of their exceptional team speed. Sixteen of their 20 sacks of Vick have come in the last four meetings between the clubs, including four Saturday.
“I’m drained,” Vick said. “Two games with these guys, pretty much two similar-type games we didn’t pull out at the end. …It’s been a tough season.”
Simms had gone four games without throwing an interception before being picked off by Keith Brookings in the second quarter, ending a streak of 127 consecutive passes without an interception—a stretch that began after the Falcons’ Pro Bowl linebacker intercepted one of his passes on Nov. 20.
The turnover led to Vick’s 8-yard TD pass to Jenkins that erased a 14-7 deficit. DeAngelo Hall’s interception and 65-yard return to the Bucs 13 positioned the Falcons to go ahead 17-14 on Peterson’s 31-yard field goal just before the half.
A moment of silence was observed before the game for James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of ex-Bucs and current Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy who was found dead Thursday. … Hall left the game in the second half with a shoulder strain. … With 1,097 yards, Williams has set a Tampa Bay rookie record.