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Bucs tied for first in NFC South; Falcons out of playoffs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- For Matt Bryant, it wasn't difficult to shrug
off missing a potential game-winning field goal in overtime. He
figured the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would give him a
chance to redeem himself.

Or so he said.

"We're not going to give up. It doesn't matter. We'll take on
the world. We've been doing it from the beginning," the jubilant
kicker said Saturday after redeeming himself by booting a 41-yard
field goal to beat Atlanta 27-24.

It nudged the Bucs closer to their first playoff berth since
they won the Super Bowl three seasons ago and ellminated the
Falcons from the playoffs.

"The world picked us not to be very good and we've managed to
prove the world wrong quite a few times," Bryant added. "We've
just got to do it one more time to get to the playoffs."

The Bucs (10-5) also gained a share of first place in the NFC
South heading into the final week of the season. They're tied with
Carolina, which lost to Dallas on Saturday, and can win the
division with a victory over New Orleans at home next week.

NFC information manager Michael Signora confirmed that Atlanta
(8-7), which hosts Carolina next week, had been eliminated. After
the game, team spokesman Reggie Roberts said the Falcons were still
alive but would need to beat the Panthers and gets lots of help
from other teams to earn a wild-card spot.

The Bucs and Falcons both wasted opportunities to win in the
extra period. Atlanta's Todd Peterson had a 28-yarder blocked after
Tampa fumbled on the overtime kickoff and Bryant shanked a
27-yarder that would have won it six minutes later.

"To have the kick blocked. It kind of put everything into
perspective -- like maybe it just ain't our year. Things are not
going the right way for us," Falcons quarterback Michael Vick
said.

Chris Simms threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and Carnell
"Cadillac" Williams ran for 150 yards to go over 1,000 for the
season, including a 6-yard burst that tied the game 24-24 in the
closing seconds of regulation.

Vick threw for 161 yards and two TDs and looked like he might
conquer an old nemesis -- the Bucs defense -- when he led a 79-yard
drive to put the Falcons ahead 24-17 on T.J. Duckett's 2-yard run.

Vick, who is 2-5 against Tampa Bay and has had some of the worst
games of his career against the Bucs, scrambled for 7 yards on
3-and-7 and threw 37 yards to Michael Jenkins on third-and-4 from
the Bucs 39 to set up the score.

But for the second time in just over a month, the Falcons
defense couldn't protect a fourth-quarter lead against a Tampa Bay
offense that's shown steady improvement with Simms at quarterback
and Williams putting together six 100-yard games on the ground.

Atlanta coach Jim Mora considered trying to run the clock out
when the Falcons got the ball for the last time with just over two
minutes left in overtime. But team officials were unable to
determine how a tie would affect the club's chances of making the
playoffs.

"We couldn't come up with a solid, solid answer, and I'm not
really one to play for ties. ... If someone had said: `If you tie
this game and win next week, you're in the playoffs,' play for a
tie," Mora said.

Mark Jones returned Michael Koenen's punt to the Bucs' 49, and
Simms launched the winning drive from there with 54 seconds
remaining. He threw 15 yards to Alex Smith and 11 to Anthony Becht
to move the Bucs into Bryant's range.

A poor snap foiled Bryant's first kick in overtime. The snap on
the second try wasn't much better, but the kicker got it through
the uprights.

"I just have to keep reminding myself that that the game is
officially over," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "That was a real
gut check. Things did not look for good for a while."

Statistically, Vick had perhaps his best day against the Bucs
defense last month when he threw for 306 yards, two touchdowns and
no interceptions. But he still walked away frustrated after losing
a fumble that set up a winning field goal for Tampa Bay in the
final minute.

The Bucs have always matched up well against the Atlanta
quarterback because of their exceptional team speed. Sixteen of
their 20 sacks of Vick have come in the last four meetings between
the clubs, including four Saturday.

"I'm drained," Vick said. "Two games with these guys, pretty
much two similar-type games we didn't pull out at the end. ...It's
been a tough season."

Simms had gone four games without throwing an interception
before being picked off by Keith Brookings in the second quarter,
ending a streak of 127 consecutive passes without an interception --
a stretch that began after the Falcons' Pro Bowl linebacker
intercepted one of his passes on Nov. 20.

The turnover led to Vick's 8-yard TD pass to Jenkins that erased
a 14-7 deficit. DeAngelo Hall's interception and 65-yard return to
the Bucs 13 positioned the Falcons to go ahead 17-14 on Peterson's
31-yard field goal just before the half.

Simms threw TD passes of 9 yards to Jameel Cook and 13 yards to
Mike Alstott, the latter set up when Dewayne White knocked the ball
loose from Vick after a 3-yard run and recovered at the Atlanta
29.

Game notes
A moment of silence was observed before the game for James
Dungy, the 18-year-old son of ex-Bucs and current Indianapolis
Colts coach Tony Dungy who was found dead Thursday. ... Hall left
the game in the second half with a shoulder strain. ... With 1,097
yards, Williams has set a Tampa Bay rookie record.