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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 3, 2010

NFL: Falcons finish with consecutive winning seasons

AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. The Atlanta Falcons gained a measure of satisfaction in an otherwise disappointing season.

Matt Ryan threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, helping the Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-10 to finish with consecutive winning records for the first time in franchise history.

Standing in for injured leading rusher Michael Turner, Jason Snelling ran for 147 yards on 25 carries. Much of the damage came while Atlanta (9-7) was putting the game away after intercepting Bucs rookie Josh Freeman twice in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay (3-13) concluded its first season under coach Raheem Morris with its worst record since 1991. The Bucs upset Seattle and New Orleans on the road the previous two weeks. However, it's uncertain whether that will be enough to save the 33-year-old's job.

Ryan tossed TD passes of 2 yards to Justin Peelle, 8 and 12 yards to Roddy White, the latter snapping a 10-10 tie midway through the fourth quarter. He finished 23 of 35 with two interceptions, including Sabby Piscatelli's pick near midfield that gave Tampa Bay a chance to take control.

But the Falcons' Christopher Owens, beaten earlier in the quarter on a TD that tied the score, intercepted Freeman's throw on the next play and returned the ball 13 yards to the Bucs 44. Five plays later with four runs by Snelling Ryan threw the go-ahead TD pass to White.

Matt Bryant added a 36-yard field goal with just over a minute remaining.

Despite sitting out five of Atlanta's last seven games, Turner still came within 129 yards of his second 1,000-yard season. He carried just 13 times after a Week 10 loss to Carolina, and the lack of a consistent running game placed a heavier burden on Ryan down the stretch.

Tampa Bay sputtered offensively, settling for Connor Barth's 36-yard field goal after Atlanta's Eric Weems fumbled on the opening kickoff and Tanard Jackson recovered at the Falcons 28.

A week after his first 100-yard rushing performance in over three years, Cadillac Williams found little room to run. The Bucs were outgained 179-52 in falling behind 10-3 at the half, with Williams managing 26 yards on his first 13 carries.

Tampa Bay pulled even, driving 70 yards in 11 plays after blocking a field goal to score on Freeman's 8-yard TD pass to Antonio Bryant.

The rookie had completions of 11 yards to Kellen Winslow and 27 yards to Maurice Stovall on the march. He picked up a key block to avoid a sack by pushing umpire Tony Michalek into a pursuing defender before making a 14-yard throw to Jerramy Stevens.

Freeman was 16 of 32 passes for 174 yards. Williams rushed for 40 yards on 19 carries.