|RB Doug Martin closed his rookie season in strong fashion in Sunday's win at Atlanta. (US Presswire)|
Tampa Bay's playoff chances wilted away with a five-game losing streak late in the season. But the Buccaneers should enter the offseason on a relatively happy note thanks to Sunday's 22-17 win over the NFC's No. 1 seed, Atlanta.
Not bad, and much better than previous weeks. QB Josh Freeman had a respectable, if not outstanding, effort (19-of-35 for 222 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT). Freeman's pick did set up a Falcons touchdown, though. RB Doug Martin showed the "rookie wall" wasn't enough for him, carrying 28 times for 142 yards (his second-best total of the season) and a touchdown.
After weeks of slow starts, the Bucs actually weren't awful out of the gates, scoring on five of their first eight possessions. The ending wasn't great (only 10 total yards on three drives between the tail end of the third quarter and the final minutes of the fourth), almost allowing the Falcons back into the game, but this was a reasonably strong performance against a quality team. Last game's grade: D
Who could have seen this sort of performance coming -- especially with the knowledge the Falcons would actually play their starters the whole way through?
Tampa Bay's struggling secondary was good enough to hold Atlanta QB Matt Ryan to only 238 yards on 28-of-44 passing. The corners didn't let talented Falcons WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White take over.
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The run defense, a strength all season, was again outstanding, holding the Falcons to only 65 yards on the ground. Most impressively, though, they made the late plays necessary to win the game, forcing a turnover on downs in the final minutes. Last game's grade: B
Special Teams: A
This had been a solid, if not spectacular, facet of play all season. It got better against the Falcons, with a blocked punt from Dekoda Watson setting up a field goal. PK Connor Barth closed his season on a strong note, making all three of his field goal tries.
P Michael Koenen averaged better than 50 yards per punt and twice pinned Atlanta inside its own 20-yard line. Return and coverage units were strong as well. Last game's grade: B-
Give first-year coach Greg Schiano credit for getting his players to give a strong effort in what was technically a "meaningless" game. The Bucs showed the sort of discipline he has been trying to instill all season, committing only two penalties for 15 yards.
Perhaps the Bucs' coaches were guilty of being a bit too conservative in the red zone, but with Freeman's recent struggles, it's tough to blame them. Getting this patchwork defense to do the job it did against the high-flying Falcons offense is a sign that the franchise is in the right hands. Last game's grade: B-
For more from Tampa Bay Bucs blogger Patrick Southern, follow @CBSBucs on Twitter.