TAMPA, Fla. – No one has led more late game-winning drives during the past five seasons than Matt Ryan, who has kept the Atlanta Falcons flying high with five fourth-quarter rallies this year alone.
Ryan did it again Sunday, throwing for 353 yards and overcoming two critical turnovers to stop Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak with a 24-23 victory.
The Falcons (10-1) kept pace with the Houston Texans for the NFL’s best record, and Ryan had plenty of help in withstanding a challenge from the up-and-coming Buccaneers (6-5).
They are playing with a lot of confidence, said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. It’s always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team.
Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another strong finish from their quarterback.
Ryan obliged by a leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.
Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that’s helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a slow start ended when Josh Freeman’s desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play.
The last drive, that’s something we’ve done before this season, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. I really think that’s a positive for us to be able to come up with plays like that when we have to like that. I’m really happy with the way we responded.
It’s getting to be a way of life. Ryan has also led late marches to beat Carolina, Washington, Oakland and Arizona this season and has put together game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since entering the league in 2008 – four of them against the division rival Bucs.
The win stopped the Bucs, who had won five or seven following a 1-3 start, from tightening the NFC South.