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Bair: Why loss to Bucs feels like more than an opportunity missed

Falcons fell back to the pack after a 29-25 loss to Tampa Bay, which muddied waters in the NFC South. 

ATLANTA – Drake London broke in toward the goal post, trying to give his route as much depth as possible. Desmond Ridder threw a fast ball that hit him in stride, a connection good for 28 yards.

London needed three more.

"Desmond gave me a chance," he said, "and I did everything I possibly could to stay up and try to get in the end zone."

The Falcons receiver fought to cross the plane but was brought down before the goal line as time expired.

The Falcons were that close to an epic comeback that ultimately fell short. It left them with a 29-25 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that pushed the Falcons into a three-way tie atop the NFC South.

They entered Sunday's contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a game up in the division, with a chance to create further separation. They fell back to the pack instead.

Many described it as an opportunity missed. While that's a fair descriptor, this one feels more intense than that, considering the stakes and the volume of damage the Falcons did to themselves.

They had a golden opportunity to take control of this division and wasted it.

It was one that shouldn't have come down to a dramatic, unwelcome finish. The Falcons missed two field goals. They turned the ball over in their own red zone. They gave up a decisive touchdown with 33 seconds left, on a 75-yard drive after being stingy all day long.

This one felt like a game the Falcons could've and should've won had they been able to get out of their own way. You could and should give Tampa Bay some credit, but too many of the Falcons wounds were self-inflicted. That's why this one stings.

"This was a division game at home, and we expect to win these ones," defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. "When you don't, they burn. But it is what is. We've got to fight with everything we've got. There's still football left, and we have more opportunities in front of us, but this one stings a little bit. You to have to wear it. You have to feel that pain and then you have to come back and fight."

Campbell went right to work trying to set a proper tone after what was described as an emotional loss. He sat down with rookie lineman Zach Harrison right after the game and had a long, in-depth conversation about what to do next. He found reserve linebacker Andre Smith for a shorter pep talk. Then, he spoke to the media about how good teams react to bad losses.

"This is a team and it takes all of us to win," Campbell said. "I mean, that's football."

This is a big moment for Falcons leadership, which must work through the week to quarantine this result and keep it from spreading.

Safety Jessie Bates III can also command the room and was emphatic the Falcons must remain focused even during this disappointing time.

"There are going to be lots of ups, lots of downs," Bates said. "The team that can weather them the best will come out of this on top. That's why you have to stay grounded, whether it's going good or it's going bad. We're going to continue to prepare like a championship team.

"Every game from here on out is going to be a playoff type of game. That's how we approach it. That's the mindset."

They'll need that mindset to properly move forward with their season, which now has four remaining games, including three on the road and two in the division.

The Falcons have been in playoff contention at this point in the last two seasons, though qualification required lots of wins and lots of help. That wasn't the case entering Sunday. The Falcons controlled their own fate. They still do to some extent. They have to finish the season stronger than the Bucs and Saints. Do that and you're hosting a playoff game.

That's what will provide the resolve and focus required to move on from this loss and finish the season strong.

"We didn't get it done today, but our spirit is not broken," head coach Arthur Smith said. "We're still in it. It'll be a wild adventure through the end of this season. Things change so much from week to week. … Down the stretch, we have to win games."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 14.

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