A champion boxer knows how to end a fight when given a chance. You get that opponent on the ropes and you can't let up for one second. Give them an inch and the next thing you know they are right back in the fight.
In Football the game can be decided on a handful of plays. Opportunities seized or missed can make or break a game, a playoff berth, or a season. And like boxing, when you have a team on the ropes you have to finish the fight.
With a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the best team in the NFC right where they wanted them. Earnest Graham had just taken a forward handoff from Josh Freeman and pulled up to dump a passing touchdown to TE John Gillmore. The crowd on throw back day was orange and electric. The Atlanta Falcons were on the ropes.
But suddenly, in a blink of an eye and a 102 yard kickoff return, a stunned Raymond James Stadium watched silently as the Buccaneers let the Falcons up off the matt. Now only trailing by three, Atlanta had life. On the next possession Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan faced a 3rd & 20 from his own 23 yard line, right were the Bucs defense wanted them, but another squandered opportunity allowed Roddy White to haul in a 25-yard post route and prolong the drive. Eight plays and two bad penalties later Ryan completed the comeback with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins.
Josh Freeman would get a chance to make another miraculous 4th quarter comeback and a dazzling Sammie stroughter completion on 4th and 12 that he caught while falling down kept hope alive. Threatening to go back on top with under two minutes to play, Freeman tossed an out route that was intercepted by Atlanta CB Brent Grimes, his first pick since week nine against this same Falcons team. The final mistake in a final frame that would of made a ring of honor inductee John McKay team look good.
Tampa Bay outplayed Atlanta for three quarters but an absolutely disastrous fourth quarter sunk the hopes of knocking off the NFC south leader and showing the world this team is for real. Given numerous opportunities to put away the Falcons the Buccaneers failed to do so and as such wound up on the losing end of the contest and perhaps put a big damper on their playoff aspirations.
At 7-5, Tampa Bay has 4 games left, 2 at home, and three of them against losing opponents (at Washington, home vs Detroit, & Seattle) but a season finale in New Orleans will loom ever larger as the margin of error grows smaller. The critics will be louder and the mark that this team hasn't beaten anyone of merit will only gain momentum, but the fact remains that twice this very young team has hung with the best team in the NFC and only just come out on the losing end. A play here or stop there and the end result may have been very different. The race to 10 to make the playoffs will definitely be more difficult now but the Buccaneers are a resilient team and no doubt will continue to grow and learn from these struggles.