Welcome to my weekly post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment(s) the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the key moment or two where things went north or south for the team.
In a game where the Bucs offense erupted for 31 second half points, it would be easy to point to any number of offensive plays as the game-changing moment in this one. A bunch of big plays to Mike Evans, a pair of key third down conversions after struggling in the first half and another strong red zone performance highlighted the Bucs comeback win over the Falcons, but the play most will point to is the 46-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Antonio Brown to give the Bucs a 31-27 lead they would not relinquish.
All of those plays were hugely significant, but when I thought back over the Bucs victory, it was a defensive play that stood out to me. With the game tied 24-24, the Falcons mounted a big drive, with back-to-back passing plays of 11 and 33 yards that set them up with a first down at the Bucs 31 yard-line. After a four-yard gain by Ito Smith on first down, Ryan dropped back to pass 27 yards from paydirt on 2nd-and-6.
With the Bucs in zone coverage, Antoine Winfield Jr. feels the deep crossing route from Ridley work in behind him, and he gets on his horse to arrive at the last second and break up a sure touchdown.
Winfield’s feel for the development of the route and where he is on the field allowed him to not panic when he was in a trail position, instead looking back to track the ball beautifully for a critical pass breakup. When Week 15 is in the books, that’ll be one of the best defensive plays of the weekend.
On the very next play, Devin White blitzed up the middle and registered his first unblocked sack of Matt Ryan, knocking the Falcons back into a 52-yard field goal, which of course Younghoe Koo nailed to re-gain the lead briefly for Atlanta. Arians showed his appreciation for the touchdown-saving play by Winfield after the game
“Great job,” Arians said. “He had a hell of a break on that ball, but really he had to come all the way across the field and [Winfield] beat him across and he’s a heck of a player. He read his eyes, he saw where he was going, that ball’s going to be in the air for awhile and he didn’t panic. A lot of time DBs will panic and they can’t run as fast. He doesn’t panic, he just goes and makes the play.”
That’s the third time this season that Winfield has saved scoring plays with pass breakups in the end zone, including Week 1 against the Saints and of course in Week 8 against the Giants, on New York’s attempt at a game-tying 2-point conversion. In Week 8 and Week 15, Winfield very well may have saved the Bucs from potential losses, if those games had gone into overtime. His heady and timely play has been massive for a struggling Bucs defense this season, and it changed the game in the Bucs 31-27 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft