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Falcons topple Bucs for NFC South lead

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) – Michael Turner ran for two first-half touchdowns and the Atlanta Falcons made a late defensive stand to claim sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 27-21 win over the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Turner had 107 yards on 24 carries for the Falcons (6-2), who were coming off a bye week. Matt Ryan completed 24-of-36 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown in the win, his 13th straight at the Georgia Dome.

Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice.

The Buccaneers (5-3) have lost four consecutive games to the Falcons.

Freeman was intercepted by Jonathan Babineaux on the opening series of the third quarter and the Falcons converted the turnover into a five-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Michael Palmer.

Matt Bryant drilled a 41-yard field goal to give Atlanta a 13-point cushion with 46 seconds remaining in the period. Despite Tampa Bay muffing the ensuing kickoff, Micheal Spurlock scooped up the loose ball and ran 89 yards to make it 27-21.

The Buccaneers than recovered an onside kick. However, Atlanta head coach Mike Smith challenged the play and the official ruled the ball was illegally touched.

The Falcons eventually punted the ball back to Tampa Bay, and Freeman converted a 3rd-and-13 from his own one by hitting a streaking Spurlock down the right sideline for a 43-yard completion. Two plays later, Atlanta’s Brent Grimes came away with an interception at midfield.

Tampa Bay got the ball back at its own nine-yard line with 10:05 to play in regulation.

Already boasting six fourth-quarter comebacks for his young career, Freeman nearly authored a seventh. Carnell Williams ran seven yards on 3rd-and-2 and Freeman found Mike Williams for an 11-yard gain on another third down. A defensive pass interference penalty spotted the ball at the Atlanta 11. Three straight runs — two by LeGarrette Blount -- left Tampa Bay staring at a 4th- and-1.

Confusion over what play to run forced Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris to use his final timeout with 2:44 remaining. The Falcons then stopped Blount for no gain. Blount felt he had picked up the first down, but with no timeouts left, it became a moot point because Morris couldn’t challenge the ruling on the field.

“Every man in that locker room gave us a chance to try to go out there and win that football game today. And I’m proud of that effort,” Morris said.

Atlanta scored on the game’s opening possession, going 61 yards in 13 plays. Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 34, Ryan completed a four-yard toss to Jason Snelling to move the chains. Turner capped the drive with four consecutive runs, the last a two-yard dash into the end zone.

“We wanted to be very aggressive in what we did,” Smith said on the opening drive. “We went right through our script. It was about as clean of a first drive that I’ve ever been involved with.”

The Falcons began their next series deep in their own territory after Robert Malone’s punt pinned them at the one-yard line. Atlanta, though, converted two third downs on an epic march that Turner finished off with a 10-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the second quarter.

A 66-yard return by Spurlock on the ensuing kickoff set up a 14-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to Arrelious Benn.

Atlanta extended its lead to 17-7 on Bryant’s 31-yard trifecta, but the Buccaneers answered with a seven-play, 90-yard drive. Freeman hit Mike Williams on a slant route for a 58-yard score to draw Tampa Bay within three with 2:06 remaining before halftime.

Game Notes

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez had 72 yards on eight receptions, while Falcons wide receiver Roddy White caught four passes for 49 yards. White suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter, but returned to the field after halftime…Freeman, who completed 11 of his 22 pass attempts, had not thrown an interception in three straight games…The Buccaneers were 8-of-13 on third downs…Tampa Bay had won five straight road games dating back to last year.

11/07 18:41:56 ET

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.