Josh Freeman threw a touchdown pass to Mike Williams and Doug Martin ran for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run, in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 22-17 victory over the Falcons, who lost two defensive starters.
The Falcons (13-3) had little to play for as they already have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Coach Mike Smith said he wanted to "finish the regular season the right way," and he stayed with his starters through the game.
But, defensive end John Abraham, Atlanta's best pass rusher, left with an apparent left ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Abraham couldn't put his weight on the ankle as he was helped off the field. Starting cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered a head injury in the first quarter and did not return. His helmet hit Martin on the running back's 3-yard gain. Robinson walked off the field and was escorted to the locker room.
Asked if he considered removing his starters after Abraham's injury, Smith said "absolutely not. We were going to continue to play to win this ballgame."
Smith said he does not believe the injuries to Abraham and Robinson are serious.
The Buccaneers (7-9) snapped a five-game skid for a positive end to a disappointing season. Tampa Bay was 6-4 and in playoff contention before a 24-23 home loss to the Falcons on Nov. 25 started the skid.
Matt Ryan's only touchdown pass was his 7-yard throw to Harry Douglas on a fourth-down play with about 7 minutes remaining to cut Tampa Bay's lead to five points. Atlanta's defense held, and the Falcons took possession at their 19 with 3:44 remaining.
The Falcons gained one first down before Ryan's fourth-down pass for Tony Gonzalez fell incomplete with about 2 minutes remaining.
Ryan completed 28 of 44 passes for 238 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Ryan had difficulty finding open receivers against Tampa Bay's defense, which ranks last in the league against the pass.
Martin capped his strong rookie season with 28 carries for 142 yards. Freeman completed 19 of 35 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freeman returned to his early season form after throwing four interceptions in each of the last two losses.
The Buccaneers led 16-3 when Asante Samuel intercepted a pass from Freeman late in the third quarter. Samuel's 11-yard return to the Buccaneers 21 set up Michael Turner's 17-yard scoring run for Atlanta's first touchdown.
Tampa Bay answered quickly with an 80-yard touchdown drive capped by Martin's 40-yard run. Martin made a spin move to break a tackle attempt by Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud.
It was difficult for the Falcons to carry through with Smith's stated plan to treat this like any other game. With nothing on the line, there were empty seats in the Georgia Dome and little atmosphere to greet the players out of the tunnel.
The Falcons announced 69,644 tickets were distributed. Many were left unused.
The Falcons' only first-half points came on their second possession. Ryan led the team on a nine-play drive that stalled at the Buccaneers' 10, setting up Matt Bryant's 28-yard field goal.