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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons recap: A dominant win?

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Tampa Bay overcame two early turnovers to beat the rival Falcons, 35-22, on the road.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With the penultimate month of the 2019 NFL regular season coming to an end, the Buccaneers hit the road to take on the division rival Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

With both teams entering Week 12 at 3-7, last place in the NFC South was on the line. Atlanta, winners of back-to-back games over New Orleans and Carolina, came in as 3.5-point favorites over Tampa Bay with a 65.7% chance to win (per ESPN’s Football Power Index).

The Bucs came in with a ton of question marks about the future of their quarterback, the state of their roster as a whole and even the performance of their coaching staff. The Falcons, on the other hand, came in with a host of key injuries and a head coach who is still working his way off of the hot seat. So, there were plenty of reasons to be interested in this one.

The Bucs overcame some early mistakes to legitimately dominate the Falcons. A strong offensive effort and an outstanding day from the defense led to a 35-22 road win that sent their rival into the NFC South’s cellar all alone.

Atlanta won the toss and elected to receive, so the Tampa Bay defense took the field against former head coach Dirk Koetter’s offense to get things started. It didn’t take long for the Bucs to be in a bad position, as Matt Ryan found backup tight end Jaeden Graham for 53 yards over the middle on the second play from scrimmage. But after a 15-yard run by Calvin Ridley, the defense stepped up. Shaquil Barrett got pressures on back-to-back plays before Carlton Davis broke up a pass on third down. The Falcons were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo, which gave them a 3-0 lead.

On Tampa Bay’s opening possession, Ronald Jones II got things going with an 11-yard run. But on the second play of the drive, Jameis Winston threw an interception right to Desmond Trufant on a ball that was intended for Mike Evans. It looked like Evans was possibly supposed to round off his route in front of Trufant, but didn’t, which led to the turnover. Regardless, Winston’s 19th pick of the season set Atlanta up at its own 47.

Luckily for Winston and the offense, the Buccaneer defense came up with a big stop. Devin White made a nice stop on third down and the Falcons were set to go for it on 4th & 3, but a false start on Graham forced them to punt.

Starting from their own three, the Bucs put themselves in worse position with an Earl Watford false start. Backed up to the 1-yard line, Winston came up with a nice play, rolling out to his right before taking off and running 12 yards for a first down. After two runs and a catch by Jones, the Bucs struck. Winston delivered a beautiful ball to Chris Godwin in between to defenders, and Godwin took off for a 71-yard touchdown. Matt Gay’s extra point gave Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead with 6:45 left in the first.

The Bucs got the Falcons to third down quickly on the next drive, but Ryan found Julio Jones for a gain of 31 to keep the drive alive. After a Barrett pressure forced an incompletion on 2nd & 7 and an Atlanta penalty led to a 3rd & 17, the Bucs got another stop thanks to solid coverage by rookie Jamel Dean.

But after the punt, the Tampa Bay offense once again put its defense in a bad position. On third down, Winston made an ill-advised throw under pressure behind Dare Ogunbowale, which was intercepted by De’Vondre Campbell.

Going from the 19, it took the Falcons six plays to take the lead. Qadree Ollison scored from one yard out to put the Falcons up 10-7 late in the first quarter.

On the first play of the next drive, Evans dropped a screen pass, then a six-yard pass to Jones took us to the end of the first quarter.

At the start of the second quarter, Winston scrambled short of the sticks on third down. But after Bradley Pinion’s punt, the Buccaneer defense once again came through. After an Atlanta first down, White and Barrett sacked Ryan on back-to-back plays, then Lavonte David came up with a tackle for loss.

A solid return by T.J. Logan on the punt set Tampa Bay up at its own 48. Winston connected with Godwin for 22 yards on first down, but the Bucs went backward after that. Jones got stopped for a loss of one and then got called for holding, but Winston and Godwin made up for it with another 30-yard gain. After a one-yard screen to Godwin and an eight-yard screen to Scotty Miller, Winston went to Godwin again and found him for an unbelievable one-yard touchdown. But the lead stayed at three — 13-10 — after Gay missed his first extra point since Week 3.

By the way, with 54 yards on that drive, Godwin surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

The Falcons moved the ball a bit on their next drive, but stalled near midfield after White’s second sack of the afternoon.

After a block-in-the-back penalty on the punt, the Bucs started at their own 5-yard line. Two Peyton Barber runs got them to 3rd & 7 before Winston unloaded a 44-yard pass to Breshad Perriman down the sideline. Atlanta challenged the catch, but the ruling stood after review.

Facing 3rd & 9 a short while later, Winston found Evans for a 17-yard gain. The catch put Evans over 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season. He and Randy Moss are now the only two players in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in six straight seasons to start a career.

The catch took Tampa Bay down to the Atlanta 30 and brought us to the two-minute warning. Two plays later, the Bucs faced another 3rd & 9. And yet again, Winston found Godwin. This one was for 26 yards, setting the Bucs up with 1st & Goal. On 2nd & Goal, Vita Vea entered the ball game AS AN ELIGIBLE RECEIVER AND HE CAUGHT A TOUCHDOWN PASS FROM JAMEIS WINSTON. YOU DIDN’T MISREAD THAT.

LOOK AT THE MAN. VITA VEA HAS AS MANY TOUCHDOWN CATCHES THIS SEASON AS ANTONIO BROWN, ODELL BECKHAM JR. AND BRANDIN COOKS. Anyway, Gay missed another extra point, but one Buccaneer stop later, we hit halftime with Tampa Bay leading 19-10.

The Bucs started the second half at their own 25 and quickly faced a 3rd & 10, but Winston escaped the pocket and scrambled for 24 yards and a big first down. A couple of plays later, Ogunbowale got loose for a 12-yard gain before Jones ran for 25 yards of his own. Winston followed with a screen to O.J. Howard for 10 yards, which set up a four-yard touchdown run by Jones.

Gay’s rough day continued on the PAT, as Atlanta got through and blocked it. Nonetheless, the Bucs led 25-10 early in the third quarter.

On Atlanta’s next possession, Ryan went after Davis on a deep ball to Ridley. It looked as if Ridley was going to come down with it, but Davis made a great play to come up with the ball for his first career interception.

The Bucs couldn’t do anything with the turnover, quickly going three-and-out before a Pinion punt. The Falcons took over near midfield and quickly found themselves in Tampa Bay territory. An incompletion on 3rd & 15 should’ve led to an Atlanta punt, but a hands-to-the-face penalty on Ndamukong Suh extended the drive. A couple of penalties on the Falcons eventually set them back and made them settle for a 40-yard field goal by Koo.

Tampa Bay took over from its own 25 and got going immediately, with Winston finding — you guessed it — Godwin for a gain of 33. Shortly after, the third quarter came to an end with the Bucs on top 25-13.

The fourth quarter began with the Bucs facing 3rd & 1, which they converted thanks to Winston avoiding pressure and finding Evans for 12 yards. Winston took a shot as he let go, but Evans came down with it and kept the drive alive. The offense eventually stalled at the 14, which brought Gay out for a 32-yard field goal attempt. He nailed it to extend the lead to 28-13 with 12:48 to go.

But of course the Falcons weren’t going to just go away. Three quick throws from Ryan got them to the 50 with just over 11 minutes to go. The Tampa Bay defense got them to 4th & 4, but Ryan converted with a short pass to Russell Gage. Ryan found Ridley for 18 yards to the Tampa Bay 14 shortly after, putting his team in position to make it a one-score game with plenty of time left. After an incompletion, Ryan was dropped for a loss of six by Vea, who starred on both sides of the ball in this one. It was his first full sack of the season.

On 3rd & 16, Barrett nearly got to Ryan again and appeared to hit his arm, which led to a deflection that Suh nearly intercepted. Instead, it fell to the ground and gave Koo a shot to make it a 12-point game. His kick was good from 38 yards out, bringing Atlanta within 28-16 with 8:12 to go.

With the ball at its own 25, the Buccaneer offense took the field needing to burn some clock at the very least. Winston found Evans for 13 yards on the first play of the drive before Jones was stopped for no gain. The clock was under seven minutes by the next snap, but it was an incomplete pass to bring up a 3rd & 10. Offsides on Atlanta saved Tampa Bay, as an incompletion on third down turned into another chance. That second chance would have to wait, as a false start on Evans brought it back to 3rd & 10. Winston’s next pass was also incomplete, which forced the Bucs to punt, leading by 12 with with 6:46 to go.

Ryan Smith came up with a nice tackle on punt coverage to set Atlanta up at its own 19. Todd Bowles’ defense continued to swarm on the drive, with Carl Nassib sacking Ryan on first down and more pressure forcing an incompletion on second. Ryan looked for Ridley on third down, but the pass took him out of bounds and forced a punt. The Tampa Bay defense came through yet again.

The Bucs wisely went to the ground on their next possession, which began at their 45. Barber got six yards on two straight plays, forcing Dan Quinn to burn two timeouts. After a loss of two on the next play, Quinn burnt his final timeout with 5:27 left. Pinion eventually had to come on for another punt, but he pinned Atlanta at its 10 with 3:44 left in the game.

The Falcons didn’t go much of anywhere on their first three downs, then Jason Pierre-Paul came up with a sack-fumble on fourth. It was recovered and returned for a touchdown by Suh, his second score of the year. Exclamation point. Ball game. Gay’s PAT made it 35-16 Tampa Bay with 3:06 left.

Matt Schaub entered the game at quarterback on the next drive and led the Falcons down the field, bringing them within 35-22 on a 21-yard touchdown to Ridley. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, as was the ensuing onside kick (which was recovered by none other than Chris Godwin).

A few kneel-downs later, the Bucs were officially 35-22 winners. They moved to 4-7 with the victory, while the Falcons fell into sole possession of last place in the division at 3-8.

Quick Stats

  • Tampa Bay outgained Atlanta 446-337 despite running 18 fewer plays. The Bucs averaged 7.2 yards per play, while the Falcons put up an average of 4.2.
  • Jameis Winston finished the game with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns (to two interceptions) on 18-of-28 passing. He also rushed for 38 yards on eight carries.
  • Sunday was Winston’s sixth consecutive 300-yard passing game, which is a franchise record.
  • Chris Godwin had a monster first half, catching all six of his targets for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the afternoon with a career-high 184 yards.
  • Godwin and Mike Evans became the first pair of Bucs teammates to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in the same season since Evans and Vincent Jackson did it in 2014.
  • Evans is just the second player in NFL history to start a career with six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
  • The Tampa Bay offensive line did not allow a sack in Sunday’s win.
  • Devin White’s two first-half sacks brought his season total to 2.5.
  • The Bucs had two scoring drives of 95-plus yards in the first half alone.
  • The Tampa Bay defense totaled 16 passes defended, with five from Carlton Davis, five from Jamel Dean, two from Vita Vea, two from Mike Edwards, one from Lavonte David and one from Andrew Adams.
  • The defense also racked up six sacks, with two from Devin White, one from Shaquil Barrett, one from Jason Pierre-Paul, one from Carl Nassib and another from Vita Vea. The team had 13 quarterback hits in total.
  • Ndamukong Suh became just the second player in Bucs history to return two defensive fumble recoveries for a touchdown in one season. The first was Ronde Barber in 2004.

The Buccaneers (4-7) return to the field next Sunday (Dec. 1), heading to Jacksonville for a 1:00 p.m. matchup with the Jaguars.