Falcons sweep the season series with the Buccaneers for the second straight year and improve to an NFL-best 10-2
Atlanta became the first team to reach 10 wins in 2010, improving to an NFL-best 10-2 on the season with its 28-24 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta's 10-2 mark matches the best 12-game start in franchise history established by the 1998 Falcons who finished the seasons 14-2 and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith is now the first coach in franchise history to record two seasons with at least 10 wins in his career. Atlanta's win over Tampa Bay gave Smith his 30th career win as the Falcons improved to 30-14 with Smith at the helm.
After a Bucs touchdown with just 10:30 remaining in the game, the Falcons trailed 24-14. On the ensuing kickoff, KR Eric Weems returned the kick 103 yards for a touchdown cutting Tampa's lead to three at 24-21.
Weems set a franchise record with his 103-yard kickoff return, breaking the previous club best of 100 yards which was held by Darrick Vaughn (2000), Deion Sanders (1991), and Dennis Pearson (1978). The last time the Falcons had a kickoff return for a touchdown was 12/15/02 when KR Allen Rossum ran a kick back 91 yards for a score against Seattle.
After struggling to bring down Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman for most of the game, DT Jonathan Babineaux came up with a huge third down sack forcing the Bucs to punt with just over eight-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game. Smith always emphasizes the importance of fourth quarter sacks as late game quarterback takedowns hold more weight because of the how close many of the Falcons games have been this season.
Babineaux's sack was the 17th of his career and his 12.5 since the defensive minded Smith took over the team in 2008. Entering the game, Babineaux ranked fifth among NFC defensive tackles in sacks over the last three seasons.
On the ensuing drive, QB Matt Ryan drove the offense 67 yards in 10 plays and hit WR Michael Jenkins for the go-ahead touchdown. The scoring strike was Ryan's second touchdown pass of the game, marking the seventh time this season that he has found the endzone two-or-more times in a game. Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown in a career-best 11 straight games and has thrown for multiple scores in three of the last four games.
Ryan's fourth quarter touchdown drive was his sixth game-winning drive in either the fourth quarter or overtime this season and the 13th of his career. Ryan has led the Falcons on game-winning drives in the final frame in three of the last four games, including Sunday's win over the Buccaneers, a Week12 win over the Green Bay Packers and a Week 10 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Clinging to a four-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game, the Falcons defense choose an appropriate time to notch its first turnover of the game. Tampa Bay held the ball at the Falcons 27-yard line when CB Brent Grimes intercepted a pass from Freeman and returned it 33 yards to seal the win for Atlanta.
The pick was Grimes fourth of the season, tying him with S William Moore for the team lead. Grimes has recorded three consecutive games against the Buccaneers with an interception. The third-year player has notched an interception in three of the past five games.
RB Michael Turner broke the 1,000 yard barrier for the second time in his career with a seven-yard carry in the first quarter. Turner ranks sixth on the Falcons all-time rushing list with 3,632 yards in three seasons. He is 227 yards shy of tying former QB Michael Vick (3,859) for fifth all time.
Turner continued his impressive run, scoring his eighth touchdown of the year on a 5-yard scamper in the first quarter. The touchdown run marked Turner's seventh touchdown in his last six games and he has now found the end zone in three straight games.
FB Ovie Mughelli scored his first touchdown of the season on a 17-yard catch and run in the second quarter. The score was Mughelli's fourth career receiving touchdown and his first since the 2009 season opener on 9/13 against Miami.
Since 2008, Atlanta is 17-4 when Ryan throws at least one touchdown pass and 26-7 when he throws two or more touchdowns. Additionally, Ryan has posted a 6-1 record in December over his three-year career.
Prior to S Sean Jones' second quarter interception, Ryan went 185 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. The streak tied QB Chris Miller for the second longest in franchise history. As a team, the Falcons went a franchise-best four games without a turnover.
WR Roddy White caught seven passes for 74 yards and set a new career-high with 91 catches this season. White's previously caught 88 passes in 2008. The two-time Pro Bowler sits just nine catches shy of becoming the first Falcons receiver to catch 100 balls in a season since Eric Metcalf in 1995.
Under Smith, the Falcons are 6-3 in the month of December and with the win over the Bucs improved to 9-6 against NFC South opponents. Since 2008, the Falcons are 5-1 against the Buccaneers.
Falcons President Rich McKay helped induct his father, the late John McKay, into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. John McKay was the first coach in Tampa Bay's history and the second person ever to be inducted into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. He was honored with a ceremony at halftime featuring members of his family and the members of Tampa Bay's inaugural 1976 team..