Stop me if you’ve heard this before - a win or loss can be decided by a single play in the NFL.
Tampa Bay found that out the hard way against the Falcons on Sunday.
A missed extra point and a crucial turnover in the end zone - along with bad defense - were the catalysts to Tampa Bay’s third consecutive loss on the season.
The Bucs first drive of the game was perfect. Great pass protection, play-calling, and run blocking allowed Tampa Bay to gain positive yards on every play.
A 28-yard run by Peyton Barber put the Bucs in Falcons territory and Jameis Winston capped off the drive with a beautiful pass to Cameron Brate on 3rd-and-8 for a touchdown. Brate showed off his stellar hands on the catch, beating out De’Vondre Campbell, who was in coverage.
But they couldn’t make it a full seven-point lead as Chandler Catanzaro missed his second extra point attempt of the season.
The Falcons came right out on their first drive marched down the field in typical fashion against a Tampa Bay defense. Matt Ryan found a wide-open Mohamed Sanu Sr. for a 35-yard touchdown to cap off a six play, 75-yard drive. Matt Bryant was able to give the Falcons the lead with his extra point and make it a one point game, 7-6.
Tampa Bay was able to get things moving quickly on their next drive, gaining 32 yards on their first three plays. However, the Falcons were finally able to generate pressure on a 3rd-and-12 and sacked Winston.
Ryan came right out and found Calvin Ridley for a 22-yard pass on the first play of their next drive. The Bucs were able to force the Falcons into a 3rd-and-10, but Austin Hooper was given a free release in the middle of the field and Ryan hit him for a 14-yard pass to convert the third down attempt.
Tampa Bay finally forced pressure upon Ryan, but he avoided the blitz and found Jones streaking across the middle for another third down conversion just a few plays later. An 18-yard run by Tevin Coleman later set up Atlanta in the red zone.
It looked like the Bucs had finally stopped the Falcons on a 3rd-and-11, but an illegal hands to the face call on the defense kept the drive alive and third-string running back Ito Smith gashed the left side for a 14-yard touchdown run on the very next play.
Bryant made good on his second PAT and now the Falcons led 14-6.
A dropped pass by Mike Evans left the Bucs with a three-and-out and now they had to punt the ball back to a red-hot Falcons offense.
Atlanta converted two more third downs - one of them a 3rd-and-20 - and Ryan Smith missed a tackle on a 9-yard Hooper reception that gave the Falcons their third touchdown of the first half and increased the lead, 21-6.
Winston was able to hit DeSean Jackson off a play-action pass for 19-yards to give Jackson his first reception of the game, but a fumbled snap by Winston on 2nd-and-3 left the Bucs with a big 3rd-and-3 and midfield.
A great option call saw Winston keep the ball and run for the first down, keeping the drive alive for the Bucs.
But Tampa Bay couldn’t get out of their own way. An illegal motion penalty on Evans put the Bucs behind the chains early with a 1st-and-15. Two plays later, Winston overthrew Jackson on a deep pass and Damontae Kazee picked it off for the first turnover of the game.
Even though the Falcons intercepted the pass, they were set up with terrible field position at their own one-yard line. If there was ever a time for the Bucs’ defense to do something - anything - this would be it.
The defense answered the call and good pressure by Kwon Alexander on a 3rd-and-1 forced the Falcons to punt the ball back to Tampa Bay.
Winston was able to move the ball into Falcon territory quickly. The game got pretty heated at one point after Falcons’ safety Brian Poole landed a big hit on Winston as he scrambled out of bounds on a 2nd-and-9.
Fortunately for Tampa Bay, Winston popped right back and Atlanta was also called for a holding penalty which gave the Bucs an automatic first down. A nice grab by Evans put the Bucs in the red zone.
Winston then found O.J. Howard across the middle for a 10-yard touchdown. This time, Catanzaro hit the PAT and the Bucs were back in business, 21-13.
Well, at least for that drive they were.
The Falcons got the ball back with just :26 seconds left on the clock, but it was plenty of time for them to drive 48 yards in just three plays. The end result was a made 45-yard field goal attempt to increase Atlanta’s lead to 24-13.
The Falcons received the ball to start the second half, but Tampa Bay was able to force a huge three-and-out after facing 1st-and-5 after an offside penalty.
Matt Bosher punted from his own end zone and the Bucs took over at their own 40.
Winston found Adam Humphries over the middle and he was able to take the ball all the way down to the Atlanta two-yard line after a 51-yard gain.
Could Tampa Bay close the gap on the Falcons’ lead?
Once again, the Bucs shot themselves in the foot. A false start on Anthony Auclair forced them back to the seven, leaving them in a must-pass situation. Winston stared down Chris Godwin on the next play despite excellent coverage and the ball was batted in the air and picked off by Poole in the end zone for a touchback.
That turnover would prove to be the difference in the game. Regardless of touchdown or field goal, Tampa Bay would’ve been in position to win the game with a kick instead of a touchdown at the end of the game.
Back-to-back penalties left the Falcons with a 1st-and-25 and Jason Pierre-Paul was able to get his fifth sack in four games on third down to end the drive.
Winston was able to connect with Howard a couple of times on the next drive and he was able to get the Bucs into Atlanta’s red zone for the fourth time on the day.
But Bucs’ right guard Caleb Benenoch was owned on a spin move by Jack Crawford and it was enough to sack Winston, forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal.
Catanzaro connected on the 35-yard attempt and pulled the Bucs within one score, 24-16.
Tampa Bay’s defense held strong again on the next drive, allowing just 22 yards and one first down. At this point, the defense seemed to be clicking. All three of Atlanta’s second-half possessions ended in a punt.
The Bucs received the ball at their own 15, but it didn’t take long for them to get down the field after Barber’s 24-yard first-down run brought them almost to midfield.
An excellent mix of run and pass, including a 21-yard reception by Jackson saw the Bucs drive into Atlanta’s red zone for the fourth time. Faced with a tough 3rd-and-1 from the Falcon’s 9-yard line, Winston found an open Godwin for the Bucs’ third touchdown of the day.
Winston to Godwin for the touchdown.pic.twitter.com/1NnNimVuQp— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 14, 2018
Takkarist McKinley played the two-point conversion perfectly and caused an errant throw from Winston that left the Falcons with the lead, 24-22.
Ryan picked right up where he had been all game and found Jones for a 32-yard gain on the opening play of the next drive. He was even more impressive scrambling for 13 yards on a 3rd-and-9 after escaping a collapsing pocket.
Atlanta continued to make the right plays and before Tampa Bay knew it, they were inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line.
A good play fake took advantage of an over-aggressive Adarius Taylor and Ryan found Coleman wide open for his third touchdown of the day as Bryant hit the PAT to make the score 31-22.
The next drive was beautiful, yet insane for the Bucs. Jackson got things off to a quick start with a 19-yard reception on the first play of the drive. After a third down conversion, Winston tried to hit Brate on a quick pass, but it was quickly broken up, causing the ball to bobbled between Brate and the defender.
All of a sudden, Godwin comes out of nowhere and is able to corral the pass and get some YAC to give the Bucs a first down. A big catch by Howard over the middle set up Winston’s fourth touchdown of the day as he found Barber wide open for a five-yard score.
The lead was now 31-29 after Catanzaro’s extra point and it was up to the defense to get one more stop.
It took longer than Tampa Bay would’ve liked, but they finally got their stop at their own 42.
But little did the Bucs know, it wasn’t enough.
In the most ironic - and ballsy - of scenarios, the Falcons trotted out Bryant to attempt a 59-yard field goal. If Bryant missed, it would’ve given the Bucs the ball at basically midfield.
Bryant nailed the field goal attempt and now the Bucs had to score a touchdown or else they would drop to 2-3.
Winston was able to drive the offense all the way down to the Falcons’ 21 with just :12 seconds left on the clock.
A wild draw play on 3rd-and-10 with seconds left almost saw the Bucs score the game-winning touchdown, but the ball bounced out of bounds along with the Bucs’ chance at a victory.
Atlanta holds on and the Bucs are now 2-3 on the season after their third consecutive loss.