Falcons’ defense woke up in time to make a key stop

November 26, 2017 Atlanta: Falcons defenders Takkarist McKinley and De’Vondre Campbell level Buccaneers running back Charles Sims III during the second half in a NFL football game on Sunday, November 26, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

The Falcons let the Buccaneers hang around too long.

They cruised to a 27-6 lead, but gave up two touchdowns to make it a seven-point game. However, they put their foot down and made a big stop in the fourth quarter.

The result was a 34-20 Falcons win, their third straight.

“The biggest thing for us was finishing,” rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley said. “I think we had them like 27-6. On defense we have to learn how to finish out games. Ain’t no reason why that game should have got as close as it was.”

The Falcons, who lost their No. 1 and No. 3 cornerbacks to injury, did get a crucial stop.

On third-and-2 from the Falcons 19-yard line, Ricardo Allen, who had moved to nickel back from free safety, came up with a big tackle on wide receiver Adam Humphries for a 1-yard gain.

On fourth-and-1, Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for tight end Cameron Brate was incomplete.

“We just have to learn how to finish a little bit,” McKinley said. “We got the W and that’s all that matters.”

Nickel back Brian Poole injured his lower back and left cornerback DesmondTrufant suffered a concussion after getting hit by strong safety Keanu Neal. Both did not finish the game.

“I owe him something,” Neal said. “I feel bad for him.”

The Falcons didn’t give an injury update, but Poole walked around the locker room and appeared to be in good spirits. Trufant’s concussion is not believed to be severe.

C.J. Goodwin took over at left cornerback for Trufant. Allen moved to nickel back from free safety and rookie Damontae Kazeee took over at free safety.

“Rico came in and played nickel corner,” Neal said. “C.J. and Kazee, they all contributed. We had to empty the bench. Sometimes that happens.”

The Falcons other cornerback, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, was inactive for the game. Also, the team released Jalen Collins on Monday after he served his 10-game NFL suspension for using performance enhancing drugs.

The defense needed the stop after the Falcons failed to put the Bucs away.

“It was huge,” Neal said. “We came together and finished. That’s part of what we do here. We’ve been talking about finishing and the opportunity was there and we took advantage of it.”

The crafty Fitzpatrick got the Bucs back in the game with some accurate passing and timely rushes. Peyton Barber added touchdown runs of two and  one yard to help the Bucs close the gap.

Fitzpatrick had two runs for 20 yards and scrambled his way out of danger several times. He was sacked just once, by McKinley. The Falcons did have eight quarterback hits.

“Look, like a lot of the good quarterbacks in the league, he can run,” McKinley said. “Regardless if he runs 4.4., 4.5, 4.6 or whatever. If there is a lane wide open, you should take it. As a (defensive) line, we have to do better at collapsing the pocket and stopping off the lane so he can’t run. We just have to be more disciplined.”

McKinley said the Falcons just kept battling during the Bucs’ attempted comeback.

“Next play mentality,” McKinley said. “We just had to get this stop and get a win.”

The Bucs could have elected to kick a field goal, to make it 27-24, before the drive potential game-tying drive stalled. However, they were having trouble stopping Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.

“We just knew that we had to make a stop,” McKinley said. “The offense went down and fumbled. For us, we couldn’t give them any points. Getting that stop on defense really helped us win the game.”

The defense held the Bucs to 94 yards rushing on 23 carries. Doug Martin left the game early with a concussion. Jacquizz Rodgers and Barber took over.

“They just used a lot of personnel,” McKinley said. “They did a good job of keeping us guessing with the different personnel groupings.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn was pleased with the play of Allen, who had the key stop on third down.

“Whatever is asked, he’s that type of man,” Quinn said. “Whatever we need, his leadership always comes through. Today we also lined him up at corner, at free safety, at strong safety.”

Allen had six tackles. Kazee and Goodwin finished with five tackles.

“It was also a good opportunity for Kazee and C.J. to get some turns,” Quinn said. “When their number is called, we expect them to play well, but back to Rico, he’s definitely somebody that we lean on a bunch.”

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