TAMPA, Fla. - If ever a play mirrored the entire Atlanta Falcons season, it was Todd Peterson's 28-yard field goal attempt on the third play of overtime Saturday.
The thunderous thud came when Dewayne White's big right hand swatted down the kick - and Atlanta's playoff hopes.
The 27-24 win by Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium was the final blow for a team that needed to close out season with a couple of wins and get some help. But the Falcons couldn't hold a seven-point lead in the final 4 minutes of regulation or make a 28-yard field goal in overtime.
"We definitely had our chances to make plays throughout the whole season and did not do it," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said.
"All throughout this game we thought we had them right where we wanted them. We thought we had the game won. We didn't capitalize, so that's why we lost."
Atlanta also lost track of its playoff situation late in overtime when it punted with 68 seconds to go, knowing a loss or tie would eliminate them from the playoffs.
When asked about the punt, Atlanta coach Jim Mora walked away from his postgame interview.
Coupled with Carolina's loss to Dallas, the Buccaneers now control the NFC South. A victory next week at home against New Orleans will wrap up the division for Tampa Bay, while Atlanta now must focus on next year.
There were four lead changes and four ties. But when it counted most, the Falcons' defense buckled, giving up a game-tying 65-yard drive at the end of regulation and a game-winning drive of 26 yards in the final 54 seconds of overtime. It ended with a 41-yard Matt Bryant field goal with 15 seconds left.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden called the victory the most gut-wrenching in his career.
"Things did not look well for a while," he said. "We played hard against a team that had its back against the wall. We made plenty of mistakes, but we hung in there. I haven't seen this kind of resolve in my life as a coach."
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.