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Ryan's mistakes hurt Falcons in 24-9 loss to Bucs
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Tampa Bay's Earnest Graham supposedly lacked the size and speed necessary be a productive NFL running back. Even the Buccaneers weren't sure what they had until forced to give him the ball.
Taking up where he left off last season, when he was pressed into duty because of injuries, the fifth-year pro averaged 9 yards per carry in the Bucs' season opener. He added a 15-carry, 116-yard performance to his resume in Sunday's 24-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
The 5-foot-9, 225-pounder with deceptive quickness and moves sealed the outcome when he took a fourth-quarter handoff, made a nice cut and scooted around right end on a 68-yard touchdown run.
He cut back inside the Falcons 15, eluding two potential tacklers to score after Atlanta had trimmed a 17-point deficit to eight with 5 minutes to go.
"It didn't look like an Adrian Peterson 70-yard run, but I made it," said Graham, who was running out of gas when he reached the end zone. "It still counts."
Warrick Dunn also scored on a 17-yard second-quarter run on third-and-goal and the Bucs turned two early mistakes by Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan into 10 points to beat their NFC South rivals for the third straight time.
Ryan struggled a week after beating Detroit in his pro debut, throwing incompletions on his first nine passes before settling down to keep the Falcons (1-1) in the game with three field goal drives.
Graham's TD ensured quarterback Brian Griese would win his first start for the Bucs in three years.
"As a rookie, it's not going to be easy. There's going to be ups and downs. You've got to weather the storm," Ryan said. "You've got to learn from experiences like this, take what you can from the film and get better."
Ryan completed 13 of 33 passes for 158 yards. Aqib Talib's interception on Atlanta's third play set up Griese's 5-yard TD throw to John Gilmore, and Sabby Piscitelli's second-quarter pick positioned the Bucs for a field goal that made it 17-0.
Atlanta scored on Jason Elam's 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the half, then Ryan led two long field-goal drives that gave the Falcons a chance if they could get the ball back.
"Obviously, you don't want to start 0-for-9 and throw two interceptions. But you've got to keep battling," Ryan said. "Everybody on our team did that. You've got to love that."
The Bucs were impressed with the rookie's ability to retain his composure after the slow start. Ryan didn't complete a pass until he hit Roddy White for a 9-yard gain with six minutes left in the first half.
"He battled through some bad passes, but he settled down because he's big, he's got strong arms, and he definitely doesn't lack confidence," cornerback Ronde Barber said.
Griese, named the Bucs starter after Jeff Garcia struggled during a season-opening loss at New Orleans, was 18-of-31 for 160 yards and one TD. John Abraham's fourth-quarter sack forced Tampa Bay's only turnover.
Although Garcia twisted an ankle against the Saints, the injury wasn't the reason coach Jon Gruden benched him.
Griese helped Tampa Bay to a 5-1 start before a season-ending knee injury in 2005, and the Bucs had hoped to re-sign him the following offseason before he agreed to a contract with Chicago.
Gruden reacquired him in a trade this year.
"I foresee Brian being the starter next week, but I'm not going to say it until I talk to both guys," Gruden said.
"He managed the game. It's his first game back here as a starter, and to win is quite an accomplishment. He missed a couple of guys he would normally hit, but he managed the game and will get better and better."

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