For the second time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Atlanta Falcons -- one of the very worst teams in the NFL. While they managed to keep it competitive into the fourth quarter, poor play killed them at the end of the game.
And by poor play, I mean bad coverage, no real pass rush, no real running game, and a slew of penalties (ten for 79 yards, not including the many penalties that weren't accepted). At least they didn't turn the ball over all that often? The Bucs are just a bad football team right now, which means they lose week after week. Even to the Atlanta Falcons.
And yes, the referees were horrible and cost the Bucs repeatedly in this game. But Tampa Bay just wasn't good enough to win. Inserting Josh McCown for Mike Glennon didn't make the differene they hoped.
Contrary to form, the Bucs offense actually did reasonably well in the first half. 10 points tied a season-high, and they didn't turn the ball over. Not for a lack of trying, with Josh McCown throwing two near-picks in the first half alone, but the Falcons couldn't come up with them. Meanwhile, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans dominated the Falcons' cornerbacks pretty consistently -- they put up eight catches for 75 yards and seven catches for 125 yards, respectively over the course of the game.
The defense also looked a little better than it usually did. Not that they were dominant, with Crezdon Butler and Mason Foster once again being repeatedly exploited in coverage, while the pass rush was better but hardly impactful. But the Falcons have a pretty explosive offense, and the Bucs repeatedly stopped them after allowing a touchdown on the first drive of the game.
Ultimately, none of that mattered as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones went off on a depleted Bucs secondary, and there was nothing the defense could do. Missing Alterraun Verner didn't help, of course, but Jones managed eight catches for 119 yards, and Ryan put up 219 yards and a touchdown on just 31 attempts. Even the run defense was weak, allowing 105 yards on 24 carries.
And ultimately, that was enough to win the game. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't even particularly good. But for the second time all season, the Bucs actually made more plays than the opposing team. And I'll take that.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers marched down the field for a field goal on their opening drive, but that result obscured a couple of near-picks and Josh McCown losing the ball on what was ruled an incompletion but looked awfully close to a sack-fumble.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense had little trouble dink-and-dunking the Bucs offense into the endzone, with a few rushes and three(!) iffy offsides penalties on Gerald McCoy to help them along. And Crezdon Butler wasn't even targeted on the drive, which obviously resulted in a touchdown and a 7-3 lead for the Falcons at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started off with more of the same: a stalling offense and a penalty-prone defense that gave up another easy drive -- although this one at least ended with a field goal.
Down 10-3, the Buccaneers turned it up a little. On one drive, at least, when the Bucs drove down the field and got the ball to Mike Evans for a 22-yard touchdown. Targeting Evans seems to be the key to successful drives for the Bucs the last couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, special teams mishaps managed to strike again, allowing Devin Hester a long return to near midfield, setting up a last-second field goal for the Falcons right before the half -- with the Falcons barely managing to spike the ball with one second left. Lovie Smith showed once again that he hasn't learned that icing kickers does nothing, and Matt Bryant easily kicked it through.
The third quarter got off with more of the same: the Falcons drove down the field steadily, but stalled in field goal range to take a 16-10 lead. The Bucs then did the same thing -- except they turned the ball over when Charles Sims fumbled it in field goal range.
Thankfully, the defense finally tightened up and bailed them out. And then Marcus Thigpun ran the ball back with a 53-yard punt return deep into Falcons territory -- that was the longest punt return the Bucs have had since Micheal Spurlock in 2009. Yes, in five years! A few Bobby Rainey and Mike James runs later (and one Mike Evans catch) the Bucs got down to the goal-line.
Second play of the fourth quarter and the Bucs got the lead on a one-yard Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown catch, an easy pitch-and-catch marred by a dumb celebration penalty on Seferian-Jenkins, gifting the Falcons some quality field position on their next drive.
When the Falcons got the ball, they again drove down into field goal range before seemingly stalling -- but a nonsense penalty on Johnthan Banks gave them another chance. Roddy White converted, Harry Douglas got the two-point attempt and the Falcons took a 24-17 lead.
And that's when everything fell apart. McCown went down on the ensuing drive, and limped off the field. The Falcons proceeded to once again rumble down the field, stall in field goal range and get Matt Bryant on the field, making it a two-score game. The Bucs had 4:15 to score ten points -- a tough assignment for any team, let alone Tampa Bay's horrid offense.
And they nearly didn't even get beyond their own 20-yard line on the first drive after that call, but a magical scramble and throw to Mike Evans got the Bucs a first down on third-and-20 -- although a challenge on a horrendous call by the refs was necessary to get that done. And then another challenge on another terrible call got the Bucs into the red zone. The referees were awful in this game.
And then Josh McCown decided to make a terrible throw into the endzone, the Falcons got the interception (on replay, after the snap, it should be noted). And that ended the team's chances of winning the game.