TAMPA, Fla. – The NFL’s top rushing team lost Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood within a span of five plays of the third quarter, but seldom-used Justin Griffith came in to finish a 71-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown burst that helped the Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-6 on Sunday.

Dunn limped off the field with a left calf injury after gaining 9 yards to boost his season total to 997. Norwood hurt his right knee four plays later, opening the door for Griffith, who only carried six times for 34 yards before Sunday.

Atlanta’s defense did its part, too, forcing two turnovers to set up 10 points, including Demorrio Williams’ 54-yard fumble return for a touchdown that wiped out a 6-0 lead Tampa Bay took with help from Falcons miscues.

Atlanta (7-6) has won two straight after losing four in a row to nearly drop out of playoff contention. Tampa Bay (3-10), limited to three field goals the past two weeks, was eliminated from playoff consideration.

Griffith finished with a team-high 57 yards rushing on 12 carries. The Bucs held Michael Vick in check on the ground (5 yards), but the quarterback was effective enough throwing to complete a sweep of the season series between the division rivals.

A year after going 5-1 against division foes and winning the NFC South, Tampa Bay went 0-6 against the Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.

Bruce Gradkowski led a pair of first-half field goal drives for the Bucs, but struggled after John Abraham sacked the rookie, forcing the fumble that Williams scooped up and returned for the Falcons’ first TD.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden challenged the play, thinking offensive lineman Anthony Davis recovered the fumble before the ball was dislodged and picked up by Williams. The play was upheld by review, and Tampa Bay never recovered.

Gradkowski completed 13 of 24 passes for 121 yards before being replaced by Tim Rattay late in the fourth quarter.

Vick was 14-of-23 for 155 yards and one interception.

The Falcons seemed intent on dooming themselves from the start.

Allen Rossum muffed the opening kickoff, picked up the loose ball at his 2 and returned it 7 yards before fumbling it out of bounds. Little went right for the Falcons the remainder of the first half.

A bad snap prevented Morten Andersen from attempting a 45-yard field goal that would have tied the score 3-3 late in the first quarter. Then Vick ruined another scoring opportunity when he threw an interception in the end zone.

The Falcons ran for a team-record 306 yards in a 14-3 victory over Tampa Bay earlier this season, with Dunn rushing for 134 and Vick gaining 127, mostly on option-style plays that weren’t a part of Atlanta’s game plan this time.

Vick entered the game 40 yards shy of breaking Bobby Douglass’ 34-year-old record for most yards rushing by a quarterback in a season and needing 71 to become the first quarterback to run for 1,000 in a season.

AP-ES-12-10-06 1637EST


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