Atlanta Falcons try to avoid upset vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers amidst NFC South race

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 14, 2017 at 7:55 PM
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons, who are in the thick of the NFC playoff race, don't plan to look past Tampa Bay and quarterback Jameis Winston in a classic trap-game scenario.

"Focusing on the next team could be a little bit distracting," Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "We have to focus on (Tampa Bay) because every game at this point is a must-win."

The Falcons watched the Monday night game earlier this week. They were stunned by Miami's victory over New England where the unstoppable Tom Brady failed to pick up one first down on third down.

The Falcons don't want their trip to Florida to end up in a similar result.

"We just have to really go into Tampa with the mindset that we have to dominate," Campbell said. "We can't go in there saying, 'Oh, we are playing Tampa; they are 4-5' or whatever their record is (4-9) and they are not playing well.

"This is the NFL. Everybody is good. If we go in there with the mindset that we are playing a lower-caliber team, that's how teams get upset. That's how they get beat. We just have to treat every game the same and approach it the same."

If the Falcons win their remaining games, they will repeat as NFC South division champs.

The Falcons (8-5) trail the New Orleans Saints (9-4) and Carolina Panthers (9-4) with three games to play.

The Falcons haven't been dazzling for much of the season and are coming off a 20-17 win over the Saints. In that game, quarterback Matt Ryan was misfiring, there were some curious coaching decisions during the two-minute drill before halftime and a declined penalty late that could have backfired.

"All three phases have some things to work on," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "Some of it was even individually, player-wise, technique-wise, some scheme things. That's what we're chasing; our best performance, and we feel like that's out there for us, so we're going after that hard."

The Falcons beat the Bucs 34-20 on Nov. 26 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bucs played without Winston, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

"We're going into what could be a tough environment on Monday night," defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "They are going to be ready. We already beat them once this season. If you get punched in the mouth once, what are you going to do? You're going to fight back. So, they are going to be ready to fight and we better be ready to brawl with them."

Detroit needed a last-minute field goal last Sunday from Matt Prater to prevail 24-21, as the Bucs couldn't overcome five turnovers. Winston had two interceptions and a fumble. Running back Doug Martin and tight end O.J. Howard also had fumbles.

"I saw that game, and just seeing the different examples of finishing, two-minute (drills), and end of games that come up, so we always check those around the league," Quinn said. "Yeah, I had a chance to get a whole game in TV-wise from them. It kind of showed, I thought, the resiliency of their team. After that many turnovers, having a chance to go battle for it at the end, that shows the toughness of their group."

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