Going into the final game of the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to end the year on a positive note and give themselves something to look forward to going into the offseason.
How about a road win against your division rivals, a team that has the No. 1 record in the NFL?
That's exactly what the Bucs got on Sunday with their 22-17 victory over the now 13-3 Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome; a place where quarterback Matt Ryan has been nearly unbeatable since coming into the league.
While the Falcons didn't have anything to play for since they already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they did leave their starters in for the entire game. That means the Bucs didn't beat a team of backups; they earned a tough win against arguably the best team in football.
Quarterback Josh Freeman wasn't spectacular, but he certainly played much better than he had in recent weeks. The Bucs' signal caller went 19-of-35 for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
That touchdown gave Freeman a couple of franchise records. With 27 touchdowns on the season, Freeman broke Brad Johnson's single season mark for touchdown passes. Freeman also now has 78 career touchdown passes, which puts him ahead of Vinny Testaverde for the most in Bucs history.
Rookie Doug Martin ended his amazing rookie season with a bang, finishing with 142 rushing yards and one touchdown on 28 carries. Martin also had four catches for 18 yards. The Bucs' electric tailback finishes his first year as a pro with 1,926 total yards and 12 touchdowns.
Receiver Mike Williams caught Freeman's lone touchdown pass and finished with 65 receiving yards on six catches. He needed 69 to get his first 1,000-yard season, but fell just four yards short.
Defensively, the Bucs played solid and didn't let Ryan get comfortable in the pocket. Middle linebacker Mason Foster was all over the field and led the team with 12 tackles. Weakside linebacker Lavonte David capped off his great rookie season with six tackles and a sack. And safety Mark Barron made a big-time play when he broke up a fourth down pass intended for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Stopping that pass sealed Tampa Bay's victory late in the fourth quarter.
The win ended a five-game losing streak for Tampa Bay and means that they improved their win total by three from a season ago. A 7-9 record still isn't what Bucs fans are looking for, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
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