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It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat the Falcons, 31-27, in Atlanta to improve to 9-5 behind Tom Brady’s 390 yards passing and two touchdowns. It was the second-largest comeback in team history as the Bucs outscored the Falcons 31-10 in the second half.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1. Brady, Bucs Come Back To Stun Falcons

There are a few certainties in life – death, taxes and the Falcons choking in the fourth quarter.

We all know about Atlanta blowing a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady and New England in Super Bowl XLI, losing 34-28 in overtime to the Patriots four years ago. Since then, the Falcons have perfected the art of the choke, blowing fourth quarter leads against the Cowboys, the Bears, the Lions, the Vikings, the Chargers and now the Bucs, who rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit and trailing 24-7 in the third quarter to stun Atlanta, 31-27.

Some of those fourth quarter failures cost general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn their jobs earlier in the season, and could cost Raheem Morris his in a few weeks, as he’s now 4-5 as interim head coach thanks to Brady. After completing just 10-of-16 passes for 70 yards in the first half, Brady and the Bucs offense – which was missing running back Ronald Jones II and left tackle Donovan Smith due to COVID-19 – caught fire in the second half.

Bucs WR Antonio Brown

Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: USA Today

Brady finished the game completing 31-of-45 passes for 390 yards, which was a season-high, and two touchdowns with 320 passing yards and both scores coming in the second half. Mike Evans had six catches for 110 yards and Chris Godwin added three catches for 32 yards and a score, but it was Brady’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, who finished with a season-high 93 yards on five catches, that gave Tampa Bay its first lead with 6:14 left and provided the winning score.

The Bucs produced just 60 yards of total offense in the first half, but finished with 416 yards, including 356 yards after halftime in the team’s amazing comeback.

Defensively, the Bucs surrendered 261 yards in the first half, but limited the Falcons, who were playing without Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones, to only 108 yards in the second half. Tampa Bay outscored Atlanta 31-to-10 in the second half, and went to more man coverage to help limit the effectiveness of wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.

It was a curiously quiet game for edge rushers Shaquil Barrett, who had three tackles, and Jason Pierre-Paul, who didn’t record a single statistic, but inside linebacker Devin White came through with a game-high 12 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and two pass breakups.

Tampa Bay, which also trailed earlier in the year by 17 points to the Los Angeles Chargers, are now 9-5 on the season and one win away from clinching the team’s first playoff berth since 2007 thanks to Brady’s brilliance. But Brady hasn’t been perfect when it comes to comebacks, falling short in the final minutes against the likes of the Bears and the Rams.

While the Bucs have shown they can mount comebacks against the likes of the Chargers, Panthers and Falcons, they haven’t been able to do that against playoff-caliber teams like the Saints, Rams and Chiefs. At least not yet.

STATEMENT 2. Bowles Needs To Scrap Soft Zone Defense

Todd Bowles’ penchant for playing soft zone defense has been a culprit in the Bucs’ slow starts this year, and that remained true on Sunday in Atlanta. It’s time Tampa Bay stops starting the game in zone coverage and plays more aggressively out of the gate.

Bowles did play some man coverage against Kansas City and Tyreek Hill burned the Bucs for doing so, but Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator seems so shell-shocked by that game that he’s resorted back to playing an abundance of zone coverage, which the team’s young safeties, cornerbacks and linebackers struggle with.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today

I understand that Bowles can’t call man coverage every play and needs to mix up coverages to keep opposing quarterbacks and offenses honest. But the Bucs general manager Jason Licht drafted three press-man cornerbacks in Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, and those players aren’t being allowed to play to their strengths, which is disappointing.

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley had 76 yards and a touchdown in the first half, mostly against zone coverage, and finished with 10 catches for 163 yards. Russell Gage had 54 yards and a TD in the first half, and ended up with 68 catches on five catches once the Bucs defense played more man coverage in the second half.

“I was not happy when they answered the drive with a touchdown,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “Then, we figured it out, started playing pretty [well]. They made the one drive, but overall the fourth quarter is when we really played well – I thought – defensively. [We] got [Matt Ryan] on the ground and got him back there. They did a great job of max protection – I think Dirk [Koetter] had a great game plan. They max protected [and] got two guys going down. Finally we just doubled both of them and got home.”

Playing more man coverage also allowed inside linebacker Devin White to get to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times in the second half. White now has a career-high eight sacks this season, which is third on the team, and Tampa Bay has 43 sacks for the year collectively.

“It was a situation where he had the back man-to-man and they were max protecting, so it gave us another free rusher and he found two gaps,” Arians said. “He’s so quick – when he sees a gap, he can shoot it and got him on the ground both times. They were big, big sacks.

Bucs ILB Devin White

Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today

“We played a lot of two man and different ways of playing two man. We had two deep safeties and everybody [else] is playing man-to-man. They kept the back in, which was letting Devin free to blitz and he found some good creases and got home.”

It would be really interesting to see just how much better the Bucs could play if Bowles would actually start the game off by playing press man coverage instead of resorting to it when the team begins to trail.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Why Does The Offense Continue To Be Awful In The First Quarter?

I don’t know, and nobody knows. The Bucs continue to be awful in the first quarter, especially on offense. Tampa Bay has been outscored 97-65 in the first quarter this season, including trailing 7-0 in Sunday’s game at Atlanta.

In fact, the Bucs have been outscored 76-17 in the first quarter over their last 10 games. That’s stunningly bad, and led to Tampa Bay falling behind 17-0 at halftime, as the Falcons out-gained the Bucs 261-60 yards in the first half.

HC Bruce Arians and QB Tom Brady

Bucs HC Bruce Arians and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

“It’s the way we’re capable [of playing] – that’s the way we should be playing,” said Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians. “My comments to the team after the game [were], ‘If we can play 30 minutes like that, why can’t we play 60?’ It’s frustrating.”

The last time the Bucs had a lead in the first quarter was 10-0 at Chicago in a 20-19 loss to the Bears back in Week 5. Tampa Bay has not scored any points in the first quarter since its touchdown at Carolina on November 15. The Bucs trailed 14-7 in that game, before pouring it on in the second half for a 46-23 win over the Panthers.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best for 60 minutes as opposed to 30,” said Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. “It was a good win by us. Everyone loves winning, but we also want to play better. We want to play our best and I think next week gives us another opportunity to try to do our best. It’s a tough week because it’s Christmas, but [we have] got to focus on what we’ve got to do. We’ve worked pretty hard to get to this point, but there’s still a lot left ahead of us.”

QUESTION 2: Do The Bucs Have To Replace Murphy-Bunting?

Yes. It’s unfortunate, but Tampa Bay simply can’t count on cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting in 2021. Not the way he’s played this year, as he’s often been the worst cornerback on the field for the Bucs.

Tampa Bay needs to spend a high draft pick on a cornerback to challenge Murphy-Bunting for a roster spot next year. I detailed Murphy-Bunting’s regression from his rookie season in my SR’s Fab 5 column on Friday.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Murphy-Bunting had given up 49 passes for 608 yards and four touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. On Sunday he surrendered the Falcons’ first two touchdown catches to Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley, unable to keep up with Gage in man coverage and looking lost in zone coverage against Ridley. Murphy-Bunting also allowed a 33-yard catch-and-run to Ridley in the fourth quarter.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs can’t just expect Murphy-Bunting to bounce back next year, yet they can’t give up on him, either, as it took three years for Carlton Davis III to emerge as a play-maker at cornerback. The Bucs do need to draft a cornerback to provide competition for Murphy-Bunting in 2021, and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Ross Cockrell see more time at slot cornerback in nickel defense, either – even if it comes at Murphy-Bunting’s expense.

Murphy-Bunting, a Michigan native, had one of his best games last year in Detroit, recording a key pick-six in the fourth quarter in front of family and friends. Perhaps he can have a similar-type play and begin to rebound from his sophomore slump.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Brady Sets Bucs’ Franchise TD Record In Detroit

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions for the second week in a row, pushing his season totals to 32 TDs with just 11 INTs. With his next touchdown pass, Brady will tie former Bucs QB Jameis Winston for the single-season franchise record, and with one more he’ll have sole possession of first place.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

The prediction is that Brady throws three touchdowns against the 5-10 Lions on Saturday and breaks Winston’s record. But that won’t be the only Bucs milestone that Brady will reach.

Brady is just 114 passing yards away from reaching 4,000, and would be the third different Tampa Bay quarterback to achieve that along with Winston and Josh Freeman, who became the first Bucs QB to pass for 4,000 yards in a season in 2012. Brady currently has the fifth-highest total in team history with 3,886 yards, and is on pace to throw for 4,441 yards, which would be the second-most in Tampa Bay history.

Jameis Winston – 2019 – 5,109 yards
Jameis Winston – 2016 – 4,090 yards
Josh Freeman – 2012 – 4,065 yards
Jameis Winston – 2015 – 4,042 yards
Tom Brady – 2020 – 3,886 yards

PREDICTION 2: Bucs Clinch A Playoff Berth On Saturday

Merry Christmas, Bucs fans! Tampa Bay is going to the playoffs, and will clinch a postseason berth with a win on December 26 at Detroit. For some of you long-suffering Bucs fans that have waited a dozen years to see your team’s season extended into January, your favorite present just might come the day after Christmas courtesy of Tom Brady and Co. Enjoy the holiday season!

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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geno711
9 months ago

I think Brady’s 390 yards passing today is the highest for a Buc’s quarterback in a game without a turnover. Just beautiful.

drdneast
Reply to  geno711
9 months ago

Without a TO is a very key important factor.

EastEndBoy
9 months ago

It is incredibly disappointing to see yet another Licht high draft pick bust out, but there you have it. I agree SMB needs to be replaced , but why is allowing Licht to draft another DB the solution? Licht has busted on: VHIII (1st round), Evans (2nd round), Stewart (2nd round), and SMB (2nd round) and he has Dean (3rd round), Edwards (3rd round) and Whitehead (4th round) on the fence. If Arians makes the pick then I agree with the strategy but if this is just another attempt in the long line of “flooding the position” by Licht, I’ll… Read more »

liquidmuse3
Reply to  EastEndBoy
9 months ago

Agree and disagree? It seems Arians and Bowles picked SMB (and Edwards and Dean)…educated guess, I guess. VHIII was always awful, but it’s tough to call Evans a bust when he played well before all the foot ailments. Also, Stewart is playing minutes for the Browns and was probably a safety anyway. That said, yes, Bowles picks the next defensive back, please.

JSW
JSW
9 months ago

Again, Brady didn’t throw or complete any passes down field until the second half. That’s when the offense started to get going. Too much dink and dunk early is leaving us in 3rd down early – which we’re not converting. I know Brady and Leftwich say we just need to convert those 3rd downs (and I agree), but the alternative is just don’t put yourself in 3rd down until your offense has found its rhythm. You do that by getting the ball farther down field. Not necessarily bombs away (al la our 2nd Saints game), just deeper routes (15-20 yards)… Read more »

RW
RW
Reply to  JSW
9 months ago

Sorry your analysis is wrong. The Bucs didn’t dink and dunk in the 1st half.The running backs and poor blitz pickups were the killers. Fournette had -4 yards after 4 touches. He killed the first drive losing 8 yards on a completed pass. 2nd drive started with a LF run for no gain. They do get a first down then promptly run LF again on 1st for no gain. Can’t make it back on 2nd and 3rd downs and punt. 3rd drive the Falcons come with pressure and on 1st and 3rd downs and sack Brady on 3rd down. (… Read more »

Dave
Reply to  RW
9 months ago

Completely agree. This was in no way on Brady in the first half. Can’t get creative with the passing game concepts when there’s pressure in Brady’s face on almost every passing play. And when the RB’s can barely get positive yardage, Brady can only make up for so much ineptitude. You have to look at it this way. The OLine was hot garbage in the 1st half against a bottom half of the league pass rush. Our RB’s combined to get 16 carries for 53 yards(3.3 YPC) for the WHOLE game. Including negative rushing yards in the 1st half. Our… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Dave
RW
RW
9 months ago

It all comes down to QB pressure. The Bucs didn’t generate any in the first half and the Bucs O line couldn’t deal with it. The D dialed it up especially in the 4th and controlled the Falcons. In the 2nd half the Bucs O-line handled the blitzes better and Brady threw a lot of quick passes outside to help negate the rush. The coaches need to learn from this game; apply pressure all game and throw more quick passes on 1st down to keep the opposing D on its heels.

drdneast
9 months ago

One moment you are saying we aren’t allowing our CB’s to play to their strengths and the next moment you want to draft another one with a high pick. Why? So we can draft another cover corner and then put him in zone coverage? As I have said a 100 times before, the game is won in the trenches. The Bucs need to draft another OLB like JPP or Shaq Barrett if one is available. and if you can’t find one in the draft, trade for one if you can. There isn’t s CB in the league who can cover… Read more »

Captain Sly
Reply to  drdneast
9 months ago

Yeah great points! SMB will be fine in the right scheme, what we need is another edge rusher. Pass rush was none existent against a weak oline Falcons team…Hey Scott how about calling out Gholston, Nacho, Suh & JPP because those guys get paid too!

Dave
Reply to  drdneast
9 months ago

Spot on dude

Naplesfan
Reply to  drdneast
9 months ago

My thoughts exactly. The best pass defense is always a great pass rush. The secondary is secondary. I do agree with SR that Bowles needs to abandon the soft zone as his primary defense, allowing that mixing up coverages is also best. Why the offense is so cold in the early going is a little harder to analyze and figure out. Same players, same game plan, but execution simply isn’t there. TB-12 is missing easy passes, receivers are dropping balls, blockers aren’t controlling the line of scrimmage. It’s team play that’s simply not getting it done in the first halves… Read more »

MWD
MWD
Reply to  drdneast
9 months ago

Keep Jamel Dean, and WF Junior, Bring two veteran DBs and there is your fix- maybe Patrick Peterson or someone that caliber- it has to be an aggressive CB or a ball hawk at safety- people who can cover and make open field tackles. Use the draft for anything else.

Horse
9 months ago

I’m hoping Scott that you have called it right. One game at a time. Go Bucs!

surferdudes
9 months ago

Oh no you don’t Scott. The Bucs don’t need to draft a CB high next year. SMB was a high 2nd round pick, how’s he turning out? You can’t keep drafting DBs to solve your coverage problems. How about drafting pass rushers instead? Suh, and Shaq are FA’s. JPP isn’t getting younger, and is on his final year in 2021, and you want to draft another rookie DB? Glad you’re not in charge.

RW
RW
Reply to  surferdudes
9 months ago

The Bucs need to generate a pass rush from 4 guys not only from blitzes. They need a young stud D-lineman to make that happen.

Spruce
9 months ago

Heady times for the Bucs so enjoy it. A come back against the Falcon’s outstanding and really needed. Soft schedule to wrap up the season is ideal but the team may be in for a rude awakening on the road in the playoffs.
Looking ahead there will be huge pressure on Brady. Big fail last year and if it happens again would it all have been worth it just to say you made the playoffs after a one and done.

Spruce
9 months ago

Stun the Falcon’s. A come from behind win against the 4 and 10 Falcon’s. Gonna say not exactly are confidence builder for the playoffs.

MWD
MWD
Reply to  Spruce
9 months ago

Spruce- I was at this game with my son in Atlanta- first half we were trying not to throw shit on the field, it was typical first half for us, shaky offensive line play, defense gives up an easy TD drive to the Falcons who really were only trying to target Ridley because remember Julio Jones didn’t even play in this game. I think the the first quarter yardage was like 124 to 38 or something in that regard in their favor. I understand it was a good comeback but again like we were talking about on our drive back… Read more »

Spruce
Reply to  MWD
9 months ago

The Bucs are almost exactly as good a team and have performed almost exactly as people predicted at the beginning of the year. A wild care caliber, good team and not just because they go Brady. With Brady and the talent level on any given day the Bucs will be able to beat anyone. However the coaching is not playoff caliber and the likelihood is that it will show up in games as will bonehead player moves resulting from poor coaching. Minnesota was running the ball at will for a time and thank goodness their kicker couldn’t hit the broad… Read more »

fredster
9 months ago

I just commented on another thread about Bowls not playing aggressively in first half’s before read this. It’s absolutely amazing they play that zone garbage and only rush 4 so many times before changing it! I also was thinking yesterday that benching players usually isn’t the answer or helpful, but they don’t have a single CB on the roster behind Bunting that come in and just play mediocre? Hard to believe and yes it is time now to bench his ass as he’s going to be torched in playoffs. He’s torched every reg. Season game against non playoff teams.

Last edited 9 months ago by fredster
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