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'We certainly know how to make it hard on ourselves': Falcons respond to 16-13 win vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The Falcons have fight in them, but taking care of the ball in critical moments could help cushion the blows the team took to get to the win. 

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Falcons made their 16-13 win in Tampa much harder than it had to be or needed to be, for that matter. This point of emphasis came from multiple outlets: From head coach Arthur Smith at the podium in the tunnels of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon, from quarterback Desmond Ridder in the same spot, from players in the locker room, too.

The Falcons won, yes. They were happy they won, also yes. It was the first time the Falcons have won a road game since Sept. 2022. The first time they've won a divisional road game since Dec. 2021. They finished the game with over 400 total yards of offense. The defense accumulated two turnovers (a fumble recovery and interception). They held the Buccaneers offense to just 13 points, only giving up one touchdown. The Bucs were 0-for-2 in the red zone.

All of this good. All of this leading to the win, and the Falcons' seat atop the NFC South.

The game, though? It was hard. It was difficult. It was the Falcons fighting tooth and nail for the win. Trying to hold on. Trying to drive down with less than a minute left to give Younghoe Koo a chance to make another game-winning field goal. One he did, indeed, make.

Here's the thing, though: It didn't have to be so hard.

"We shouldn't even have to get to that point," Ridder said postgame of the Falcons final fight to the finish. "... For us, we made it a lot harder on ourselves than it had to be."

Smith before him: "We certainly know how to make it hard on ourselves."

Ridder took responsibility for that, too.

Despite their overwhelming offensive production, the Falcons were 1-for-5 in the red zone. More so, they were 1-for-5 with goal to go. Three of those trips to the red zone ended in a turnover. Two of those three trips ended with a fumble on the 1-yard line. All three turnovers were attributed to a fumble by Ridder. They were critical errors. They can't happen. Ridder knows that, but his team bailed him out: The defense with key stops and two turnovers and Koo with his game-winner.

Here's the thing, though: Ridder did what he could to take the pressure off himself, too. In the end, he did lead the Falcons in the final drive to set up Koo's field goal. He hit Kyle Pitts for a field-flipping 39-yard catch to set it up.

And therein lays the dichotomy of Ridder. He led the team well. He produced a lot of yards for the Falcons, too. He finished the day 19-of-25 through the air for 250 passing yards. He threw no interceptions. But (and you knew the "but" was coming) you can't overlook the not-so-good moments that could have easily changed the outcome of Sunday's win. Those fumbles, you just can't overlook them.

This is the second week in a row where three turnovers have been attributed to Ridder. Last week it was three interceptions en route to a loss. The Falcons didn't lose this game, but they gave the Bucs every opportunity to win it.

"It's stuff we have to clean up," Smith said.

But then he quickly added: "I will say this about Des: He stood in there and delivered some big-time throws (Sunday), especially when we needed it late."

And when asked if Ridder's performance Sunday was a concern, Smith said no. He came to his quarterback's defense postgame, saying the big picture is important.

"We just won the game, 16-13," Smith said. "The guy played phenomenal in the pocket. ... Let's give (Ridder) some credit. Let's give this team credit for winning. There's always things but we're not going to run away with some negative narrative. We found a way to win. I'm not worried about Desmond Ridder. He's tough and he finds a way to win."

No matter what, Smith said, this is a resilient Falcons team.

However, all of this can be true simultaneously. Just because they're resilient and found a way to win this game, doesn't mean they can't be better. It doesn't mean fans shouldn't want more security, less anxiety. It doesn't mean Ridder shouldn't take better care of the ball. He knows he needs to.

The Falcons have to be better in the red zone, but they also can be a really dynamic offense that has accumulated 1,250 total net yards in their last three outings. With every game, their offense is looking more and more like the explosive, fun unit Smith said in training camp it would be. They've been that, especially, in the last few weeks.

The Falcons were never out of the fight in any of those last three games, winning two of the three. But if they take care of the ball in the critical moments... If they punch the ball into the end zone... If they get points of any kind... Perhaps the fight isn't so hard.

The Falcons take flight to Nashville to face the Titans in week eight of the 2023 regular season. #RiseUp

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