TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons stumbled into a hole, only to find a way to escape again.
Matt Ryan threw for 353 yards and overcame two critical turnovers by leading another late touchdown drive to rally the Falcons to a 24-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the NFC South leaders found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then forced a fumble by Ryan to set up a field goal that put the Falcons in catchup mode with 10 minutes to go.
Michael Turner's 3-yard TD run put Atlanta ahead for good with 7:55 left. Connor Barth missed a 56-yard goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the Bucs' four-game winning streak ended when Josh Freeman's desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone with no time remaining.
The win enabled the Falcons (10-1) to keep pace with Houston for the NFL's best record. Turner also scored a fourth-quarter TD that helped the Falcons overcome six turnovers to beat Arizona 23-19 last week.
Doug Martin scored on a pair of 1-yard run for the Bucs, however the rookie who began the day leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage was limited to 50 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Barth kicked field goals of 22, 42, and 48 yards, the latter giving the Bucs their six-point lead after cornerback E.J. Biggers sacked Ryan to force a fumble. Ryan threw a second-quarter interception — his sixth pick in two weeks — that led to Barth's field goal that made it 10-10 at the half.
Ryan completed 26 of 32 passes, including four straight on the drive that Turner finished with his TD run. Jacquizz Rodgers had a 5-yard TD run in the first quarter, and Jones finished with six receptions for 147 yards despite playing on a sore right ankle that limited him in practice.
Ryan started the game with 10 straight completions before Ronde Barber's interception and 28-yard return to the Atlanta 31 led to Barth's first field goal.
The Falcons drove to the Tampa Bay 4 in the closing seconds of the half, but wasted an opportunity to regain the lead when Matt Bryant hooked a 22-yard field-goal attempt wide left as time expired. The Atlanta kicker missed a 48-yarder with 8 seconds left, giving the Bucs one more chance to pull out what would have been their first signature victory under first-year coach Greg Schiano.
Atlanta struck quickly after Barth's second field goal put Tampa Bay up 13-10. Ryan found Jones racing up the right sideline, and the receiver broke free from cornerback Leonard Johnson to continue into the end zone. The Bucs regained the lead when Martin scored his second TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Freeman finished 19 of 30 for 256 yards. Vincent Jackson had five catches for 96 yards.
Atlanta converted six of eight first downs and outgained the Bucs 239 yards to 105 in the opening half, yet it was 10-10 at the break because the Falcons settled for a field goal after holding the ball for more than seven minutes of its first scoring drive, Ryan's interception and Bryant's missed field goal.