Bucs may not be the best in the NFC, but they continue to compete

I didn’t believe Raheem Morris when he said the Bucs were the best team in the NFC. I don’t even think he believes that the Bucs are the best team in the NFC.

But if they play every week as hard as they did in Atlanta on Sunday, then they’re going to stay in the thick of things in the conference.

The Falcons beat their division foes 27-21 to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South, but it wasn’t without a couple of close calls. After Atlanta took a 27-14 lead late in the third quarter on a Matt Bryant 41-yard field goal, Michael Spurlock returned the following kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown to cut the Falcons’ lead to 27-21. Tampa Bay’s defense then shut down Atlanta’s offense after a failed onsides kick and following a Josh Freeman interception in the fourth quarter.

But in the end, the Falcons’ defense saved the day by stopping LeGarrette Blount on 4th-and-1 from the Atlanta 2-yard line. Blount thought he had picked up the first down, but it was clear that he was stopped short and with the Bucs out of timeouts, the Falcons were able to run out the rest of the clock (roughly two minutes) after picking up a first down.

Sunday showed that the Bucs are moving in the right direction but they also still have a ways to go – especially Freeman. He made a couple of great throws in crucial moments during the game, but he threw an interception after locking onto receiver Mike Williams early in the fourth quarter and he also mismanaged the play clock (not totally his fault, as the Bucs were having issues getting the play into him) on Tampa’s final drive. Because of that, Morris had to call the team’s last time out and therefore wasn’t able to challenge Blount’s play on 4th-and-1. (The call probably could have stood anyway, but it would have been nice had the Bucs been able to challenge.) It’s games like these that remind fans that Freeman is a talented kid but he’s just that – a kid. He should continue to get better though.

Tampa’s run defense needs to improve as well. Atlanta is going to get its yards on the ground with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, but the Bucs need to improve in that area if they’re going to compete down the stretch. The Falcons rushed for 130 yards and because of that, they controlled the game throughout (even the Bucs gave them a couple of scares in the second half).

That said, Morris has something brewing in Tampa. He has his team believing that they can win every week and even though they’re often dominated in terms of time of possession and total yards, they’re rarely dominated on the scoreboard (where it counts). They produce some big plays and have that gnat-like ability to hang around late in games.

Maybe they’ll hang around all year, too.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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