Thanks to three long Atlanta drives hinging on six conversions in eight third-down attempts, the visiting Falcons ran 34 plays in the first half Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to the Buccaneers’ 17. The Falcons went into halftime with an 18:12-11:48 edge in time of possession…but no lead. Matt Bryant’s miss of a 22-yard field goal attempt as time expired kept the game in a 10-10 tie.
The Bucs were able to forge that tie in large part due to the only turnover of the first half, a Ronde Barber interception that turned away an Atlanta scoring threat and set up Connor Barth’s 22-yard field goal in the second quarter. The other factor that kept the game close: Offensive efficiency.
Tampa Bay came into the game with a stellar average of 6.1 yards per play on the season, and actually upped that to 6.2 in the first half on Sunday. The Bucs gained 105 yards on their 17 plays despite one failed drive that included two sacks of QB Josh Freeman and a 42-yard reception by RB Doug Martin that was erased by a hands-to-the-face penalty. Martin, who scored the Bucs’ touchdown on a one-yard run on the opening drive, contributed a total of 29 rushing and receiving yards.
Freeman was particularly efficient, completing five of six passes and compiling a passer rating of 109.0. His only incompletion was a purposeful throwaway on a second-and-goal play from the Atlanta one-yard line in the second quarter, when the Falcons covered all of his targets on a play-action pass attempt.
The Buccaneers will get the ball first to start the second half. If they can maintain their level of offensive efficiency in the third period – and they have a league-best +45 scoring differential in that quarter in 2012 – they could soon be back in the lead.