The Bucs did not punt the ball once and scored on every meaningful possession but one in their 44-27 win over the Falcons, and yet still found themselves in a tight game when the fourth quarter arrived. The Bucs eventually ran away with it, but there were some mistakes and bad penalties that put what should have been a comfortable win in doubt until the final five minutes.
Here were the most disappointing players in the game.
CB Ross Cockrell
Cockrell has been an important addition to the Bucs’ secondary this season, but a bad penalty by him hurt the Bucs in the first half. Cockrell was flagged for roughing the passer with 5:45 minutes remaining in the second quarter, which led to Atlanta’s first touchdown of the game. He came up near Matt Ryan’s head with the hit, which is why the call was made. As a veteran in the game, he has to know not to do that. Cockrell was also responsible for allowing an important third down reception to Russell Gage Jr. on another Atlanta scoring drive, as the Falcons receiver finished with nine catches for 91 yards. Cockrell had just two tackles in the game.
Bucs’ Pass Rush
Once again the Bucs just can’t seem to find a way to get to Ryan. While they sacked Ryan three times in Atlanta two weeks ago, that all came from Devin White, who was not available for this game. They finally got to Ryan once late in the game on a sack from Ndamukong Suh, but it was another case where Ryan had a lot of time to throw and seemed to beat the blitz whenever the Bucs would send it. The Bucs allowed a touchdown on a third-and-17, while also allowing a first down on a second-and-17 following their only sack of the game. What was the reason for those conversions? The Bucs gave Ryan time to throw the football. It hurt not having White or Shaq Barrett out there, but this is not how they want to head into the postseason as a pass rush group.
CB Jamel Dean
With Carlton Davis III out for the game, Dean was the de facto number one corner for the Bucs and was solid in coverage, limiting Calvin Ridley to eight receptions for 52 yards. What gets Dean on this list here was a costly penalty on fourth down in the third quarter, where Dean was penalized for pass interference on Ridley. It wasn’t a hard call for the ref to make, as Dean was grabbing his jersey on the play. The Bucs had a chance to get off the field, but didn’t and the Falcons went on to cut their deficit to three on the drive. We’ll have to watch the tape again, but it also looked like that Dean may have been out of position on Gage’s touchdown reception in the first half. Dean finished with six tackles.
RB Leonard Fournette
Fournette surprisingly got the start over a returning Ronald Jones II, but didn’t end up doing much with it. He averaged 2.6 yards per carry while Jones averaged 6.5 and scored a touchdown. You can just tell how different the Bucs’ offense is when Jones is in over Fournette, as there’s a sudden spark in the run game. Fournette made a very questionable decision at the end of the first half with the Bucs in a two-minute drill. After receiving a pass near the sideline with around 20 seconds remaining, Fournette decided to try and run for an extra yard and take on a defender near the sideline, rather than get out of bounds to kill the clock for third-and-goal. Instead he was tackled in bounds, and the Bucs had to rush up to call their next play rather than take their time and plan things out. It wound up being an incomplete pass and they settled for a field goal. Ultimately, it didn’t change the outcome of the game, but it’s little decision-making situations like that where you want to see a veteran player make a better decision.
WR Scotty Miller
The Bucs scored each time they had the ball except for one, and that came on a blunder by Miller during Tampa Bay’s first drive of the third quarter. Given more playing time after the injury to Mike Evans, Tom Brady fired a ball right over the middle to Miller near the 30-yard line in the red zone, but as he was heading toward the ground, Miller bobbled the ball and the impact with the ground popped it up in the air where it was caught by Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen. This immediately swung the momentum to Atlanta, who had just scored a touchdown. They kicked a field goal after the interception and cut the lead to three. It’s a shame that it goes down as an interception for Brady since he did nothing wrong on the play. It was a ball that Miller should have had and it brought Atlanta right back into the game. Miller didn’t make the most of his opportunities, recording just one catch for 13 yards.