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Falcons catch no breaks, lose fifth straight


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Falcons catch no breaks, lose fifth straight

The Associated Press

Published on: 12/16/07

Tampa Micheal Spurlock started up the middle, cut to the outside and didn't stop running until making history for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs ran back a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time in the franchise's 32 seasons and routed the reeling Atlanta Falcons 37-3 Sunday to win the NFC South for the second time in three seasons.

Ronde Barber returned an interception 29 yards for a TD and Earnest Graham scored a touchdown rushing in a team-record sixth consecutive game to help Tampa Bay (9-5) improve to 5-0 in the division after going 0-6 against NFC South rivals a year ago.

It's the fifth straight season that the team winning the NFC South finished last the previous season.

The loss was the fifth in a row for Atlanta (3-11). It capped a tumultuous week that began with suspended star quarterback Michael Vick being sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring, a lopsided loss to New Orleans and the abrupt resignation of first-year coach Bobby Petrino.

While some thought Petrino's unexpected departure would give the Falcons something to rally around, things quickly got out of hand in the debut of interim coach Emmitt Thomas. Barber scored on the third play of the game and Spurlock's 90-yard kickoff return made it 14-3 midway through the opening quarter.

The closest the Bucs had ever come to scoring on a kickoff was 2001, when Aaron Stecker returned one 86 yards against New Orleans.

Spurlock settled under Michael Koenen's kick at his 10, burst through a huge hole in the middle of the field and cut up the right sideline to the end zone untouched. The TD came on the 1,865th attempt made by 141 players since Tampa Bay's inaugural season in 1976.

Before Sunday, Tampa Bay's kickoff returns had covered 37,395 yards, or more than 21 miles.

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