Final

Buccaneers 31

(6-4, 2-3 away)

Falcons 7

(3-7, 2-3 home)

Coverage: FOX

1:00 PM ET, November 18, 2007

Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA 

1 2 3 4 T
TB 7 7 10 731
ATL 0 0 0 77

Top Performers

Passing: J. Garcia (TB) - 159 YDS, 2 TD

Rushing: E. Graham (TB) - 17 CAR, 102 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: M. Jenkins (ATL) - 9 REC, 73 YDS

Leftwich struggles, Bucs' offense rolls to take hold of NFC South lead

ATLANTA (AP) -- Tampa Bay seized control of the weak NFC South with one of its trademark defensive showings.

As for the Atlanta Falcons, it's back to the drawing board at quarterback in the post-Michael Vick era.

Jeff Garcia threw for two touchdowns, Ronde Barber returned a fumble for another score and the Buccaneers' defense completely stifled the Byron Leftwich-led Falcons 31-7 Sunday, another low for a franchise trying to recover from Vick's dogfighting debacle.

Tampa Bay (6-4) allowed just 49 yards rushing, delaying former Bucs star Warrick Dunn from joining the 10,000-yard club, and scored just as many points on defense as the Falcons' inept offense.

With New Orleans and Carolina both losing and dropping to 4-6, the Bucs now hold a commanding two-game lead in the division race with six to play.

"Our defense was awesome," Garcia said. "You can't say enough about the way our defense is playing."

As for the Falcons, all the talk was about quarterback.

In a highly debatable move, first-year Falcons coach Bobby Petrino decided to start Leftwich over Joey Harrington, who led Atlanta (3-7) to a two-game winning streak while the former Jacksonville starter was recovering from ankle surgery.

But, in a decision that caught Harrington off guard, Petrino said he was sticking with Leftwich as the No. 1 signal-caller as long as he was healthy enough to play.

Boy, did that decision ever backfire on the rookie coach. Petrino now sounds as though he might go back to Harrington for Thursday night's game against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts.

"We've got a lot to evaluate in front of us," Petrino said. "We need to take a good look at this video and see who gives us the best opportunity to win the game Thursday. That's what we need to do. When that happens, I can't tell you."

Playing behind a short-handed offensive line, Leftwich had one of the worst games in his career, completing 15-of-28 for 106 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles. Harrington took over late in the third quarter, but it didn't matter much by then with Tampa Bay already leading 24-0.

"To be honest with you, I've never been involved with something like this," Leftwich said. "It's difficult to deal with. It should bother everybody. I know it bothers me. It should make it tough to sleep at night."

Earnest Graham ran for 102 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 31-0. Garcia didn't have to do much with the defense manhandling the Falcons; he completed 10-of-20 for 159 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown to Joey Galloway that got the Bucs rolling.

The only solace for Atlanta was avoiding its first shutout since 2005. Harrington threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Adam Jennings with 1:10 remaining and mostly backups on the field.

The Bucs were up 7-0 early in the second quarter when Leftwich tried to scramble from the pocket on his gimpy ankles and was hit from behind by Greg White, knocking the ball loose. Barber picked it up on one bounce and scooted 41 yards to the end zone without being touched.

At that point, the Georgia Dome crowd broke into chants of "Joey! Joey! Joey!" and booed Leftwich every time he came on the field.

Leftwich certainly noticed the lack of faith, though it was hard to argue with the fans' sentiments.

"Yeah, and it happened pretty early, man," he said. "Things weren't really going bad. As a player, all I can do is play my butt off and try to lead and help this football team win."

Tampa Bay was actually expecting Harrington to start. He completed 16-of-20 for 139 yards after finally getting on the field.

"We were hoping he would get in the game," Barber said. "Our whole game plan was directed at him."

Matt Bryant punched through a 23-yard field goal that made it 17-0 early in the third, and Leftwich's final play was another turnover. Gaines Adams hit the quarterback's hand from behind as he tried to throw, the ball fluttered in the air and defensive tackle Chris Hovan made a juggling interception at the Atlanta 27.

"[Leftwich] held the ball too long a couple of times, and we put pressure on him," Barber said."

Three plays later, Garcia threw off his back foot under pressure and Alex Smith made a leaping catch in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, giving the Bucs a 24-point lead and sending what was left of the crowd heading for the exits with nearly 5 minutes still left in the third.

Game notes


Dunn was held to 32 yards on 15 carries and is still 26 short of 10,000. ... The Falcons were hit hard by injuries. DT Trey Lewis appeared to sustain a season-ending knee injury, and OT Todd Weiner aggravated his left knee, which already needed surgery this season. TE Dwayne Blakley (neck, head) and DT Rod Coleman (arm, hand) also went down. ... The Bucs deactivated RB Michael Bennett, who had played in three games with one start since being acquired from Kansas City last month in a trade.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
TB
ATL
1st Downs1515
Passing 1st downs
711
Rushing 1st downs
53
1st downs from penalties
31
3rd down efficiency
3-105-16
4th down efficiency
0-10-2
Total Plays5371
Total Yards305268
Yards per play5.83.8
Total Drives1413
Passing156219
Comp-Att
11-2131-47
Yards per pass
7.14.2
Interceptions thrown
01
Sacks-Yards Lost
1-55-26
Rushing14949
Rushing Attempts
3119
Yards per rush
4.82.6
Red Zone (Made-Att)0-11-1
Penalties6-4511-105
Turnovers24
Fumbles lost
23
Interceptions thrown
01
Defensive / Special Teams TDs10
Possession27:2632:34

Passing Leaders

TBC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Garcia10/201598.0201-5
Gradkowski1/122.0000-0
ATLC/ATTYDSAVGTDINTSACKS
Harrington16/201397.0101-7
Leftwich15/271063.9014-19

Rushing Leaders

TBCARYDSAVGTDLG
Graham171026.0126
Pittman10444.4021
ATLCARYDSAVGTDLG
Dunn15322.106
Snelling2136.507

Receiving Leaders

TBRECYDSAVGTDLG
Galloway26331.5144
Smith35117.0123
ATLRECYDSAVGTDLG
Jenkins9738.1014
Robinson24321.5033

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERTBATL
tbTD7:50Joey Galloway, 44 yd pass from Jeff Garcia (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 72 yds, 1:02
70
SECOND QUARTERTBATL
tbTD10:54Ronde Barber, 41 yd fumble return (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 0 yds, 0:25
140
THIRD QUARTERTBATL
tbFG6:39Matt Bryant 23 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 8 plays, 49 yds, 3:22
170
tbTD4:57Alex Smith, 21 yd pass from Jeff Garcia (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 27 yds, 1:29
240
FOURTH QUARTERTBATL
tbTD15:00Earnest Graham, 26 yd run (Matt Bryant kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 45 yds, 3:39
310
atlTD1:14Adam Jennings, 7 yd pass from Joey Harrington (Morten Andersen kick is good)
Drive info: 13 plays, 82 yds, 5:15
317