All for naught.
The officials took away the apparent defensive touchdown, but the Atlanta Falcons didn’t let it keep them down. Four plays later, they were back in the end zone again—and this time it counted.
“What this team has learned to do is play down to down,” Falcons coach Jim Mora said. “When something negative happens, we go back to the huddle and put it behind us.”
That attitude sure paid off in this game, which was defined by a wacky play in the fourth quarter.
Draft picked up the ball and—despite being tripped by one of his teammates — ran some 60 yards the other way, believing he had scored a touchdown. Hall even jumped on his back to celebrate.
Not so fast.
While the Falcons (7-2) sent their extra-point team on the field, Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden threw a red flag to signal he was challenging the call. The officials huddled, finally announcing they had whistled the play dead because Pittman’s forward progress was stopped.
“Man, they didn’t blow that thing dead,” Draft said. “It’s a conspiracy. They saw me working so hard, they didn’t want to give me that thing.”
But the Falcons didn’t have long to pout. Rather than attempt a tying field goal, the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1. This time, Pittman held on to the ball but was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.
Gruden defended his decision.
“We had less than a yard to go,” he said. “It would have been a 46-yard field goal. There was no guarantee.”
Atlanta took over and quickly drove for the clinching touchdown.
T.J. Duckett broke off a 21-yard gain, then Vick found his Pro Bowl tight end breaking free down the middle. With linebacker Shelton Quarles in hopeless pursuit, Crumpler caught Vick’s pass without breaking stride and didn’t stop running until he was in the end zone.
“It was a situation where we needed a big play,” said Crumpler, who had four catches for a career-best 118 yards. “I had man coverage with a linebacker and Mike threw the ball up there.”
“Sometimes, they had three guys on me,” said Coleman, who missed the last three games after a car wreck. “I was just laughing. They were wasting three guys on me, but their quarterback was on the ground.”
Tampa Bay (3-6) lost for only the second time in five games, but this one could be a crushing blow for a team that won the Super Bowl only two seasons ago.
Atlanta, which has a three-game cushion in the NFC South, took a major step toward locking up only the third division title in franchise history.
“There’s not a lot of rah-rahs and cheering going on just because we beat the Bucs,” defensive lineman Ed Jasper said. “We’re trying to get to the Super Bowl.”
The Falcons, who rushed for 205 yards, scored on their first three possessions for a 17-0 lead. At that point, they held a 186-13 advantage in total yards.
But the Bucs got Vick under control, and Griese led the comeback. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Michael Clayton before halftime, then connected with Ken Dilfer on a 22-yard touchdown early in the second half to make it 17-14.
Vick and Crumpler got the Falcons rolling on their fourth play from scrimmage, hooking up on a 45-yard pass that set up Jay Feely’s 33-yard field goal.
Atlanta scored touchdowns on its next two possessions. Vick got loose for a 41-yard run and Duckett finished off the drive with a 2-yard TD. Duckett scored again on a 1-yard dive, capping a seven-minute, 79-yard drive made possible by a facemask penalty on Simeon Rice.
Vick was 8-of-16 for 147 yards, but ran for 73 on just nine carries. Warrick Dunn rushed for 76 yards, and Duckett added 53 on the ground.
Griese was 19-of-26 for 174 yards.
Tampa Bay DT Anthony McFarland (injured triceps) didn’t play. … Falcons CB Jason Webster (bruised chest) also was deactivated. … Jasper sustained two nasty cuts on his forehead while making a tackle after his helmet came off. After being stitched up, he returned to the game.