If the Dec. 30 game between Tampa Bay and Atlanta means anything at all (the Falcons could have the NFC South and home-field advantage for the postseason wrapped up by then), you can bet the following quote will be plastered on the walls of the Falcons’ locker room that day -- and probably a few days before.
"I know we outplayed them," Tampa Bay offensive tackle Donald Penn told the media Sunday after the Falcons defeated the Buccaneers 24-23. "We're a better team than them -- it didn't show. They made one or two more plays, and that made the difference.’’
All right Atlanta fans, go ahead and start firing back. I know those may sound like fighting words. But I don’t think Penn’s true intention was to belittle the Falcons. He was speaking out of frustration and he made some valid points about a game in which the Bucs squandered several opportunities that could have made a big difference in the outcome.
"We should have won that game, plain and simple,’’ Penn said. “I'm not going to sugarcoat it for you. We should have won that game. We didn't, so back to the drawing board on Monday. We're a great football team, we're going to build. We lost this game, but there's still a lot of football to play."
Tampa Bay fans should take heart in Penn’s words. He’s an elder statesman with a good pulse of the locker room. The Falcons snapped the Bucs’ four-game winning streak. But, at 6-5, the Bucs still remain very much in the playoff picture. That beats the heck out of last year at this time when the Bucs were well on their way to losing their final 10 games of the season.
"It's a different team out there, definitely," Penn said. "Everybody sees it. Last year has nothing to do with this year. It doesn't mean nothing. We've got a lot more football to play and we just got to get this [defeat] behind us.’’