For as much as we’ve talked about gloom and doom and “no way back” for the Buccaneers after how the first half of their season played out, their game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday was truly the swing game of the season. A win on the road against a divisional opponent meant that they not only would have part of the tiebreaker in hand over a team they would likely be close to at the end of the regular season, but a third win in a row would set up an easy next few games to possibly get their record above .500 and beyond.
However, all of that hope and potential came crashing down, as the swing game swung in the wrong direction and the Falcons took care of business at home by a score of 34-20 in their favor.
The Falcons won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. The Bucs started the game with the ball on offense and right off the bat got things going when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a first down on the very first play. That start was the catalyst for a 10-play, 57-yard drive which included a balanced running and passing attack, ending in three points off the foot of Patrick Murray.
The Falcons offense hasn’t been what we saw from them last year during their Super Bowl run, but it is still talented. That talent showed up early as quarterback Matt Ryan led a 13-play, 43-yard drive in response to Tampa Bay opening up the scoring. That Atlanta drive got them close enough for a 49-yard Matt Bryant field goal to tie up the game 3-3.
The next three possessions went punt, punt, punt; two by the Buccaneers with one by the Falcons in between. Both defenses were holding strong the trenches and were getting pressure on the quarterback. This caused some rushed throws and confusion in the passing game, and that made it easier to stop some of the running game, too.
However, after the Buccaneers second punt in that series, the Falcons got into the end zone for the first time in the contest thanks to a wild cat pass by Atlanta wide receiver Mohamed Sanu who hit wide receiver Julio Jones for 51 yards for six points.
After that things really started to unwind for the Buccaneers in the first half.
Following another three-and-out for the Buccaneers, the Falcons took over with the ball at their own 28-yard line and began what would be a 6-play, 72-yard drive. In a drive that heavily featured Falcons receiver Jones, Jones racked up a total of 60 yards on the ground and in the air. To top it off he was the man who caught the touchdown to extend Atlanta’s lead to 17-3.
Following going down two scores, the Bucs answered with a 14-play, 73-yard drive that got them all the way to the goal line, but not good enough for six points as the team had to settle for three points. The good part about that drive was that it controlled the clock and took up a good amount of time winding down to the end of the first half. But, even though the Falcons had just 1:36 seconds to take the ball 77-yards, they got close enough for a field goal to keep the lead what it was. The game went into the half 20-6.
The Falcons opened up the second half much like they ended the first; by featuring Julio Jones early and often. Jones started the second half off with a 23-yard catch, and that began a 9-play, 74-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard Tevin Coleman run into the end zone for the Falcons.
The Bucs did respond, however, with a touchdown of their own, as the first pass to a tight end all game by O.J. Howard in the red zone set up an easy Peyton Barber score on the next play – starting running back Doug Martin had been taken out of the game due to a concussion.
After getting the game to a respectable score, the Bucs defense clamped down on the Falcons offense and forced a punt after seven plays. The Bucs offense continued their momentum and orchestrated a 9-play, 80-yard drive that ended in six points yet again. the game then became just 27-20 for the Falcons entering the fourth quarter.
As the Falcons were drive the ball to try to extend their lead, which included a big 44-yard catch by Julio Jones, who broke the record for most receiver yards ever against a Buccaneers defense, a forced fumble Bucs by rookie Kendell Beckwith was picked up and returned all the way to the Falcons side of the field by Tampa Bay cornerback Brent Grimes.
The Bucs took the momentum 40 yards in eight plays which got them just on the edge of field goal range. However, down seven and the clock getting lower and lower, the Bucs tried to go for it on 4th-and-1 and a pass to Cameron Brate was broken up. They left the series off the turnover with no points.
On the Falcons following drive, it looked like the Bucs were going to force a punt with plenty of time left even before the two minute warning, but a big catch by Julio Jones on third down continued the drive for Atlanta, one that would end with a Tevin Coleman rushing touchdown.
That put the game at 34-20 in favor of Atlanta, and that’s how it would end.
Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the game 26-for-43 with 273 passing yards. Running back Doug Martin finished his day with 33 yards on seven carries before leaving with a concussion. In his relief, Jacquizz Rodgers had 31 yards on eight carries and Peyton Barber had seven yards on five carries with two touchdowns. Mike Evans led the Buccaneers in receiving with 78 yards on six catches. DeSean Jackson was next with 60 yards on eight catches. Tight end O.J. Howard had 52 yards on three catches, and Cameron Bate had just six yards on one catch.
For Atlanta, quarterback Matt Ryan finished his day 26-for-35 with 317 yards and a touchdown. Wide Receiver Julio Jones had 253 yards on 12 catches with two touchdowns, and running back Tevin Coleman had 97 yards on 19 carries with two scores.