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Bucs welcome challenge of ending skid vs Falcons

TAMPA, Fla. -- Donald Penn couldn't recall the last time Tampa Bay beat division rival Atlanta. Reminded it was three years ago, the Buccaneers Pro Bowl offensive tackle frowned.

The Falcons haven't exactly dominated the series, but they keep finding ways to win.

"I don't like anybody in the NFC South, but I have a big chip on my shoulder because we haven't beaten them the last five meetings and that's tough," Penn said, looking ahead to today, when the Bucs will get another crack at the defending division champions.

"You don't really have any bragging rights if you haven't beaten them the last five times," the sixth-year pro added. "This is a very important game. I know I've got a bad taste in my mouth, and they're not going to come in and lay down either."

With both teams sporting 1-1 records, and no less than a share of first place in the division on the line, coaches and players expect another typical Falcons-Bucs matchup.

Four of the past five have been decided by six or fewer points, including a pair of games decided in the closing minutes last season.

"It's going to come down to the fourth quarter, more than likely," Falcons coach Mike Smith said, "and the team that makes the plays in the fourth quarter is going to be the team that's going to be fortunate to get the victory."

The Bucs lost 27-21 at Atlanta last November when LeGarrette Blount was stopped on fourth-and-inches from the Falcons' 1 in the final minute.

Tampa Bay took a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in the December rematch at Raymond James Stadium, then watched Atlanta roar back to win 28-24 after Eric Weems scored on a 102-yard kickoff return and Matt Ryan threw a TD pass to Michael Jenkins down the stretch.

The Bucs won 10 games and narrowly missed the playoffs a year ago. A late-season loss to Detroit generally is regarded as the game that cost them a berth. However, winning either time against the Falcons would have gotten the team to 11 victories, too.

"They've done a great job of taking every game we've played right down to the wire. We've just found a way mentally to get over the hump," Falcons receiver Roddy White said.

"They're still a young team. It takes things like that to happen to you for you to get better," White added. "We don't expect anything different. We expect the game to be close, expect both teams to play hard. That's just how the teams are brought up. We expect to be in a battle."

The matchup also features two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Both led fourth-quarter comebacks last week to help their teams avoid starting 0-2.

Ryan rallied the Falcons from a 10-point, second-half deficit at home to beat Philadelphia 35-31. The Bucs roared back to beat Minnesota 24-20 on the road after trailing 17-0 at halftime.

The 23-year-old Freeman has led winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in eight of 14 games he's won since taking over as Tampa Bay's starter midway through his rookie season in 2009. He's hurt the Falcons in the past with his arm, as well as his ability to scramble and make things happen on the run.

"Getting him on the ground is a big challenge," Smith said of the 6-foot-6, 248-foot Freeman.

"If you see this guy in warmups and out of his uniform and not wearing his jersey and you didn't know who he was, you'd think he was a defensive end. He's a big guy who has a real strong arm and he's very difficult to get on the ground. We've had some issues in the past and that's going to be one of our musts, to make sure we contain him and not allow him to get out of the pocket and extend plays."

The Bucs have the same kind of respect for Ryan, more of a traditional pocket passer who's beaten them five straight times.

The Atlanta star threw for four touchdowns against the Eagles, but also tossed a pair of interceptions, was sacked four times and finished with a banged-up knee. The Falcons have allowed nine sacks, and Ryan has been hit 17 times, in two games.

"That's part of the deal, especially in the NFL. There are going to be weeks where you take some shots," Ryan said. "The important thing is that you've got to keep bouncing back up and hanging in there. I think not only myself but everyone else has done a great job of that."

Bucs coach Raheem Morris hopes his team, which has used first- and second-round draft picks each of the past two years to bolster a weak pass rush, can get to Ryan, too, and disrupt the Falcons' offense.

"I heard on SportsCenter he was a tough guy. He gets hit and takes it. I hope the same continues this week, that would be awesome," said Morris, who serves as his own defensive coordinator and also must plot strategy to slow Atlanta's Michael Turner, who's averaging 6.9 yards per carry rushing.

Morris is 0-4 against the Falcons and itching for a taste of success.

"We can't call it a rivalry yet. We haven't won any of them. These guys have been dominant," Morris said. "We have played them tough, but you get no moral victories. We have to go out and try and win some of these games to try and win our division like we've talked about."