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The Falcons can run with anyone

Atlanta downs Tampa Bay, 17-6

    TAMPA, Fla. — Justin Griffith makes a living blocking for Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood.
    Turns out the Atlanta fullback is a capable runner, too.
      The NFL’s top rushing team lost Dunn and Norwood within a span of five plays in the third quarter Sunday, but the seldom-used Griffith came on to finish a 71-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown burst, helping the Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-6.
    ‘‘He’s a dependable guy in a lot of areas — running the football, pass protection, leading for Warrick and Jerious, leading for Michael on a lot of the keepers, and it was good to see him get a chance to get in the end zone,’’ Atlanta coach Jim Mora said.
    Six plays after Dunn limped off the field with a left calf injury and just two snaps after replacing Norwood, who left with a sore right knee, Griffith rumbled through a hole in the middle of the line untouched. He made a nifty move on safety Will Allen to complete his first career TD run.
    The juke froze Allen in his tracks, and the 232-pound Griffith cut left to the endzone.
    ‘‘It’s one of those things that we practice every day. ... Get into the guy’s area, you give him a head fake. They’re going to miss you every time,’’ Griffith said. ‘‘You’ve got to break down, give him the tippy toes, then go on in.’’
    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 Falcon miscues.
    Atlanta (7-6) has won two straight after losing four in a row and is still in the playoff hunt. Tampa Bay (3-10), which has not scored a touchdown in 11 quarters, was eliminated from playoff contention.
    Griffith, who only carried six times for 34 yards before Sunday, finished with a team-high 57 yards rushing on 12 attempts. 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.
    ‘‘This is not the same team that went 5-1. Same helmets, same uniforms, but not the same team,’’ Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
    ‘‘I hate to use the word frustrating,’’ Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks said. ‘‘It’s obviously very disappointing. I felt this was a game we should have won.’’
    Bruce Gradkowski led a pair of first-half field goal drives for Tampa Bay, but struggled after John Abraham sacked the rookie, forcing the fumble that Williams scooped up and returned for the Falcons’ first TD.
    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.
    ‘‘What I saw, nobody really ever had control of the ball,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Two or three people fell on it, and it was still bouncing or nobody covered it. I saw the ball was out, so I picked it up and took off.’’
    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 started slowly, seemingly intent on dooming themselves.
    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.
    The Falcons have consecutive wins for the first time since late October, but Mora isn’t taking it for granted that they’re back on track.
    ‘‘All it’s done is given us a chance to continue to compete for a postseason spot,’’ the coach said. ‘‘That’s all we’re looking at.’’
    Notes: Dunn carried 11 times for 45 yards, hiking his season total to 997. Mora said he and Norwood would be listed as questionable for next week’s home game against Dallas. ... Andersen, who kicked a 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, moved within two points of the NFL’s career scoring record.

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