Amid all of the talk about coaching rumors, a quarterback decision and draft positioning, the Buccaneers took the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the final time in 2018. They welcomed in the Atlanta Falcons, who beat them 34-29 back on Oct. 14. Both teams were wrapping up disappointing seasons, though it’s obvious that the one of the two is in a much more stable position than the other right now. You all know which team that is.
The Falcons won the coin toss and deferred, which meant Jameis Winston and the Buccaneer offense would get the first shot in the game. The two teams traded punts on their opening possessions, with the Bucs being pinned at the seven to start their second drive of the day. Peyton Barber started the drive with runs of six and seven yards before Mike Evans hauled in a 19-yard pass from Winston. With that catch, Evans broke Mark Carrier’s franchise record for most receiving yards in a season.
WR Mike Evans just surpassed Mark Carrier's franchise record for receiving yards in a season! pic.twitter.com/BLAVUSzgOZ— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
Winston got hot from there, finding Adam Humphries for a nine-yard gain up to the 50 and Bobo Wilson for 16 yards to the Atlanta 34-yard line. With the Bucs in Falcons’ territory for the first time, a holding call on Antony Auclair stopped momentum, though only briefly. Humphries caught an eight-yard pass and Chris Godwin made a spectacular sideline catch for nine before Barber picked up a first down at the 21. Two plays later, Winston hit Evans for a 19-yard touchdown to give Tampa Bay a first-quarter lead. The score capped a 12-play, 93-yard drive that lasted 6:28.
Winston + Evans = TD pic.twitter.com/tH5Eb4CSBE— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
The Tampa Bay defense kept the momentum going on Atlanta’s next drive, with rookie Jordan Whitehead breaking up a pass on first down and Lavonte David coming up with a stop of Julio Jones on third. The Bucs moved quickly on their next drive, with a key 15-yard run by Jameis Winston on 3rd & 9 extending the possession. The first quarter came to an end with Tampa Bay at Atlanta’s 45, already leading 7-0.
When the second quarter started, the Falcons defense stepped up and got a stop. That prompted a 41-yard punt by Bryan Anger, which was caught at the 13. Ryan and the offense then went three and out once again, with Andrew Adams breaking up a pass on 3rd & 1.
Winston got the Bucs rolling again on their next possession, with a big 18-yard pass to Evans on third down after he avoided some pressure. After entering the red zone, Tampa Bay saw its drive killed by a sack. Cairo Santos then came on to drill a 36-yard field goal, which extended the lead to 10-0.
Atlanta started its next drive with back-to-back first downs, but was once again hurt by penalties. First, it was a false start. Then, one play after Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Ryan, a personal foul brought it to 3rd & 24. Ryan’s next pass fell incomplete, which gave the ball back to Tampa Bay.
After the two teams traded punts again, the Bucs had a chance to add to their lead with under two minutes to go in the half. Starting from their own 30, they went 70 yards in four plays, scoring on a 30-yard pass from Winston to Chris Godwin. It was an excellent throw from Winston and Godwin completed the catch with some nifty footwork to extend the lead to 17-0 with 46 seconds left in the half.
Winston rainbows that ball to Godwin for the TD. Bucs ⬆ 17! pic.twitter.com/Yh0Bx3F0v2— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
With under a minute left in the second quarter, the Atlanta offense finally got something going. Ryan led the offense on a five-play, 75-yard drive in 26 seconds to cut the Tampa Bay lead to 17-7. He found Julio Jones for a 19-yard touchdown to finish off the drive and give the Falcons some life heading into the locker room.
The Falcons started the second half by quickly moving down the field again, getting some help from a facemask on Bucs rookie Carlton Davis. Atlanta later got inside the 10 before the Tampa Bay defense forced a third down, but the unit wasn’t ready for the Philly Special. Mohamed Sanu took the reverse and found Matt Ryan for a five-yard score. After a 14-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 6:11, the Falcons were within 17-14.
Tampa Bay responded with a scoring drive of its own, with the key play being a 33-yard completion from Winston to Evans. A low throw by Winston was dropped by Cameron Brate on third down a short while later, which led to a 45-yard field goal by Cairo Santos. With 6:39 to go in the third quarter, the Bucs’ lead was at 20-14.
Penalty issues returned for the Falcons on their next drive, but they were able to overcome two holding penalties thanks to a 32-yard pass from Ryan to Sanu on 3rd & 17. Tampa Bay stepped up a few plays later to get a stop, but former Buc Matt Bryant connected on a 49-yard field goal to bring the Atlanta deficit to 20-17 late in the third.
Momentum stayed with the Falcons from there, as Winston had a pass tipped and intercepted.
Three plays later, Tevin Coleman ran for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 24-20 lead— their first lead of the day. What was once a 17-0 lead for Tampa Bay became a 24-20 deficit heading into the final quarter of the season.
A Tampa Bay three and out followed, which set up another Atlanta scoring drive. Ryan found Calvin Ridley wide open for a seven-yard touchdown to put the Falcons up 31-10. It was the end of another 75-yard drive, this one on seven plays in 3:59.
Despite the Falcons’ 31-3 run, the Bucs refused to go quietly. Winston kept them in the game with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Evans— their second scoring connection of the day— to bring the deficit back to one score. The two-point conversion failed, but the Bucs trailed by just five with 8:09 to go.
Winston to Evans Part 2 pic.twitter.com/rR39UMhQs0— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
Atlanta got the ball back needing to kill some clock and potentially score to ice the game. Instead, Matt Ryan completely flipped the game around. Under pressure from Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan threw an interception right to Andrew Adams.
Andrew Adams with the INT!!! pic.twitter.com/B7bnxiwb1l— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
After a 15-yard pass to Humphries, Winston found Godwin for a 19-yard score— their second touchdown connection of the game— to put the Bucs back on top. The two-point conversion was no good once again, but the home team had a 32-31 lead with 5:10 to go.
Winston to Godwin Part 2.— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 30, 2018
Bucs up 1! pic.twitter.com/qwiHqRxVJ3
Of course, the game still wasn’t over. The Falcons took over and moved the ball with ease, killing valuable time the whole way. They got into field goal range with just under three minutes to go, but an unnecessary roughness call on Julio Jones backed them up to the 45 with 2:04 left. In the end, it wouldn’t matter. The Buccaneer defense had the Falcons facing 3rd & 11 with 1:53 left. A stop and a timeout would have given them time to work with after a potential go-ahead field goal, but instead, the unit allowed Ryan to find Jones for the conversion.
After a few kneel-downs by Ryan, Matt Bryant lined up and hit a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired.
With that, the Bucs finished 5-11 for the second straight season and will pick in the top five of the 2019 NFL Draft.
- Jameis Winston finished the first half with 210 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-23 passing. He added 23 yards on two carries in the first 30 minutes. The final 30 minutes were just as good for the 24-year-old, as he finished 22-of-35 for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once on a tipped pass.
- Mike Evans caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns on the day. In addition to breaking the team’s record for receiving yards in a single season, he also became the youngest player in NFL history to hit 6,000 receiving yards.
- Chris Godwin had a career day, catching six passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
- Evans and Godwin combined for a Tampa Bay first— the first time the team has had two receivers go for 100-plus yards and two touchdowns in the same game.
- Brent Grimes had three passes defended in the first half alone.
- The Falcons were 0-for-5 on third down in the first half, but finished the day 6-for-13.
- Tampa Bay outgained Atlanta 270-172 in the first 30 minutes, but was eventually outgained 489-433.
- The Bucs were only penalized three times for 30 yards, while the Falcons got flagged nine times for 85 yards.
- Tampa Bay has finished at the bottom of the NFC South seven times in the last eight seasons.