Sunday loomed as a big test for the Atlanta Falcons defense, which appeared vulnerable to the running attack of the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Behind running back Doug Martin, the Bucs have the kind of top 10 rushing attack the Falcons might have to face at some point in the postseason which now seems all but a certainty, and a loss would have tightened the NFC South race to within shouting distance.
Yet in their latest skin-of-their-teeth victory, the Falcons prevailed 24-23 on the road over their division rivals. They got the kind of performance they needed from their defense which was significantly bolstered by the return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and overcame turnovers and a couple of uncharacteristic missed field goals.
The win improved Atlanta to an NFC-best 10-1, giving them a four-game lead over second-place Tampa Bay (6-5) with five games remaining. The Falcons also own at worst a 1.5-game lead over San Francisco for the conferences best mark and a two-game b...