The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a crucial game over the Atlanta Falcons to keep themselves in the playoff race. The Bucs beat Atlanta 23 to 19 thanks to a late Mike Evans touchdown and a crucial third-and-19 scramble by Jameis Winston. The win gives the Bucs a 6-6 record and they control their own fate in the NFC wild card race. Thanks to beating the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this year they'e now swept the Falcons for the first time since 2007.
The Bucs relied on Doug Martin all game long, as the running back got 95 yards on a whopping 25 carries with one touchdown, but also a crucial fumble in the fourth quarter that seemed to turn the game around. Jameis Winston had a pretty good game with one crucial scramble and a number of big throws, completing 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one sack and one rushing touchdown.
The Atlanta Falcons had little problem going down the field against a Buccaneers defense that was missing three defensive linemen to injury, including star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, but couldn't turn all that yardage into touchdowns. Instead, they kept settling for field goals until the fourth quarter, when they finally found a way to get into the endzone and grab a 19-16 lead. But that wasn't enough, as the Bucs offense marched down the field into the end zone, and Lavonte David ended the game with a beautiful interception in the two-minute warning.
First quarter notes
The Bucs came out and did what they wanted to do: run the ball on every. single. down. The Bucs ran Doug Martin on six consecutive plays, gaining a total of 26 yards and three first downs -- but also leading to a third-and-12 just inside Falcons territory -- and a punt to the endzone, barely gaining them any field position.
The Bucs stopped the Falcons quickly, though, and then went back to pounding Doug Martin play after play. He ended up with a whopping 11 carries for 49 yards in the first half, and Jameis Winston finished the running game with a five-yard scramble for a touchdown to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead as they headed to the second quarter.
Second quarter notes
The Bucs defense obviously struggled with the Falcons throughout the first half, with both their running and short passing game humming along. The Bucs couldn't get pressure with Gerald McCoy out, and the run defense really suffered from his lack of disruption as well. The Falcons got all the way to the six-yard line with short passes to Julio Jones and outside runs by Devonta Freeman, but William Gholston's third-down sack forced them to settle for a field goal and a 7-3 deficit.
The Bucs then moved the ball a little on offense, but stalled and decided for the second time to punt in enemy territory. That gave the Falcons a chance to put up their third field goal just inside the two-minute warning. The Bucs got a chance to extend their lead after that, and they were in position to do just that with a great throw and catch by Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, but a tipped ball on a high throw between the two on the next play gave the Falcons a field goal and a 9-7 lead going into the half instead.
Third quarter notes
The Falcons did what they did in almost every drive so far in the game: get into position for a touchdown, and then settle for a field goal instead. The Bucs then erased all of those field goals by driving down the field and getting Doug Martin in the endzone from the goal-line, after a drive that included a great throw to Vincent Jackson from Winston and a few big Charles Sims runs. A failed two-point conversion kept it to a one-score game, though.
The Bucs defense then finally stepped up, almost getting a safety on Matt Ryan but instead forcing a punt from the Falcons' endzone, setting up Jameis Winston and company in field goal range. They couldn't get the touchdown this time, despite getting to the goal line, but took a neat 16-12 lead. Forcing a punt on the Falcons' final possession of the third quarter certainly didn't hurt, either.
Fourth quarter notes
The fourth quarter didn't get off to a good start: Doug Martin, fighting for extra yards, fumbled the ball to the Falcons -- and then they actually got a touchdown and the lead, 20-16.
After Martin's fumble, it seems the Dougernaut was sidelined and Charles Sims got almost all of the work until halfway through the second drive. The Bucs seemed to stall on third-and-19 after a holding penalty, but Jameis Winston pulled out a magical scramble to keep the drive alive and give the Bucs a chance to tie or win the game. They did exactly that with a terrific catch by Mike Evans in the endzone, and Lavonte David ended the game with an interception.
Cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah had to leave the field during the third quarter with an elbow injury and did not return. He was replaced by Mike Jenkins, as the Bucs coaching staff still hates Johnthan Banks.
The Buccaneers host the New Orleans Saints next week, looking to sweep their struggling division rivals.