19 December, 2017
The final game in Week 15 of the 2017 National Football League season did not disappoint.
Freeman, who did not play when the teams met three weeks ago, led the Falcons by rushing for 126 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run with 7:58 remaining in the fourth quarter that virtually put the game away. However, the defense couldn't hold late and allowed a field goal with under a minute left to extend the losing streak.
The Falcons (8-5) trail the New Orleans Saints (9-4) and Carolina Panthers (9-4) with three games to play. The Bucs, meanwhile, opened as a 4-point home underdog but the line was bet up almost three points and now the Falcons are -6.5. Injuries have also been an issue. They'll have to play better than they did against the depleted Buccaneers, who were without star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David due to injury and without running back Doug Martin for disciplinary reasons. Howard (ankle) and right guard J.R. Sweezy (lower leg). For Atlanta, Tevin Coleman (concussion) and Andy Levitre (triceps) are ruled out. But then again, the Falcons had the running game going with a season-high 201 rushing yards.
Jameis Winston threw for 299 yards and three TDs for the Bucs (4-10), including a 16-yarder to Adam Humphries that trimmed Atlanta's lead to 24-21 with 3:51 remaining. In the end, the Bucs offense keeps it tight but the defense fails to show up. What will make that hard, though, is that the Falcons are seventh in total defense and sixth in pass defense.
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The last time these teams squared off, Ryan Fitzpatrick was under center for the Buccaneers.
Defensively, Keanu Neal forced fumble and fumble recovery in the red zone was a key play in the game, the kind of turnovers the Falcons need to force to beat the Saints and Panthers. The all-time series between the two teams is tied 24-24. Winston posted two of his top three passer ratings last season against the Falcons, recording a 7:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those two games. ESPN will televise the game. It'll be close, but no cigar - except for Ring of Honor inductee Jon Gruden.
As usual, 98Rock (97.9 FM) will have the game's radio broadcast in the Tampa Bay area. T.J. Rives will have reports from the sideline. I also kind of like Jameis Winston's chances to get a little something going with the passing game.