TAMPA, Fla. — No one has led more late game-winning drives during the past five seasons than Matt Ryan, and the Atlanta Falcons quarterback did it again with his fifth one this season.
Matty Ice threw for 353 yards and overcame two critical turnovers to stop Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak with a 24-23 victory on Sunday.
The Falcons (10-1) are tied with the Houston Texans for the NFL’s best record, and Ryan had plenty of help in withstanding a challenge from the up-and-coming Buccaneers (6-5).
“They are playing with a lot of confidence," said Ryan, who has won seven of his past eight starts against the Bucs. “It’s always been a tough place for us to come play. They play with great effort, and I think they have a good football team."
Ryan teamed with Julio Jones on an 80-yard TD midway through the third quarter, but the Falcons found themselves trailing 23-17 after the Bucs marched for a touchdown, then used a sack-fumble to set up a field goal that left Atlanta needing another strong finish from their quarterback.
Ryan obliged by leading a six-play, 64-yard march that Michael Turner finished with a 3-yard TD run that put the NFC South leaders ahead for good with 7:55 remaining.
Connor Barth missed a 56-yard field goal for Tampa Bay (6-5) in the closing minutes, and the winning streak that’s helped the Bucs climb back into playoff contention following a slow start ended when Josh Freeman’s desperation pass fell incomplete in the end zone on the final play.
“The last drive, that’s something we’ve done before this season," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “I really think that’s a positive for us to be able to come up with plays like that when we have to like that. ... I’m really happy with the way we responded."
It’s getting to be a way of life. Ryan has also led late marches to beat Carolina, Washington, Oakland and Arizona this season and has put together 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since entering the league in 2008 — four of them against the division rival Bucs.
The Falcons won’t have long to celebrate this one. The host the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in a rematch of the only game they’ve lost.
“Ten-and-1 is great, but I’ll tell you what I’ve said since the beginning of the season: We’re just jockeying for position," Gonzalez said. “We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football. Right around this time is when you want to start gelling as a team and take it on into the playoffs because that’s the most important thing."
The win stopped the Bucs, who have won five or seven following a 1-3 start, from tightening the NFC South standings. 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 runs 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 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.
“It was a hard-fought game by both teams, a very physical game," Schiano said. “But I do think missed opportunities were a big part of it. There were some chances both offensively and defensively, and in the kicking game."
In other games on Sunday:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Peyton Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, and Denver rallied for its sixth straight win. Manning hit tight end Jacob Tamme late in the first half and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter, and that was more than enough to overcome three field goals by the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop as Kansas City lost its eighth straight game.
CHICAGO — Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards and a touchdown after missing a game because of a concussion as Chicago ended a two-game losing streak. Tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead and just a game ahead of Minnesota (6-5) coming in, the Bears (8-3) grabbed a 25-3 halftime lead thanks to Cutler’s pinpoint passing. The defense held Adrian Peterson in check early on, although he finished with 108 yards rushing.
NEW ORLEANS — Colin Kaepernick ran for one score that he made look easy and threw for a touchdown in another performance that validated coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to start him. The San Francisco defense added its share of big plays and the 49ers ended the Saints’ three-game winning streak.
SAN DIEGO — Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field with 1:07 left in overtime to complete a stunning comeback. San Diego led 13-3 on Nick Novak’s 30-yard field goal with 7:51 to go in regulation. But the Ravens converted on fourth-and-29 from their 37 when Ray Rice caught a short pass from Joe Flacco and weaved through the defense to the San Diego 33 with 1:37 to play. Six plays later, Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal to tie the game as regulation expired.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Janoris Jenkins became the first player in Rams history and the first NFL rookie since 1960 to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game and St. Louis dominated the second half to hand Arizona its seventh loss in a row. Arizona rookie Ryan Lindley was intercepted four times in his first NFL start.
CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes and Cincinnati showed its former quarterback, Carson Palmer, that it has moved on without him. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown against the NFL’s most generous defense. He had runs of 48 and 39 yards — the longest of his career — to set up scores.
CLEVELAND — Chris Rainey’s fumble with 2:25 left — Pittsburgh’s seventh of eight turnovers — was recovered by Cleveland’s Phil Taylor and the Browns handed their hated rivals a potentially devastating loss. Charlie Batch, starting at quarterback for Pittsburgh because of injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, was picked off three times and the Steelers (6-5) lost five fumbles, the last on the final play of the game to help the Browns (3-8) beat Pittsburgh for just the second time in 18 games.
INDIANAPOLIS — T.Y. Hilton scored on a 75-yard punt return and caught an 8-yard TD pass from Andrew Luck. Hilton is the first player in franchise history to score by punt return and pass reception in the same game. Indy improved to 7-4.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chad Henne threw two touchdown passes, sparking the NFL’s worst offense for the second consecutive week. Jacksonville (2-9) snapped a seven-game losing streak and were competitive at home for the first time this season.
MIAMI — Dan Carpenter kicked a 43-yard field goal on the final play, and Miami scored 17 points in the last 8:08. Rookie Ryan Tannehill drove Miami 65 yards in the final 92 seconds to set up the winning kick. He finished 18 for 26 for 253 yards and a score.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns, giving him 200 for his career, and the New York Giants sacked Aaron Rodgers five times in a rout of Green Bay. Coming off their bye, the Giants (7-4) put to rest concerns about a dormant offense and a tired arm for Manning. He connected with rookie Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks for scores, and Ahmad Bradshaw had a combined 119 yards, including a 59-yard sprint on a screen pass to begin the onslaught.