With a victory, Tampa Bay would finish 8-8 — its best mark since 2016 — and earn second place in the NFC South for the first time since that same 2016 season. Not only that, but it would also help Bruce Arians avoid his first nine-loss season in his head coaching career. Plus, heading into the offseason on the heels of a victory and a 6-2 second half would be the icing on the cake for a team that was once 2-6.
What stood between the Bucs and all of that was the division rival Atlanta Falcons, who came in riding a three-game win streak. It was a homecoming of sorts for Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who was fired by Tampa Bay almost a year ago to the day. Coincidentally, it was a Week 17 loss to the Falcons that was his final act as the Bucs’ head coach. He and his offense came to Ray Jay looking for revenge after losing at home to the Bucs — 35-22 — back on Nov. 24.
Vegas had this game as a pick ’em going in, but ESPN’s FPI liked the Bucs, giving them a 59.8% chance to win.
The Bucs got out to a tough start, falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter before storming back to take a 22-16 lead into halftime. The defense held strong in the second half, but the offense couldn’t hold up its end of things. That led to two Falcons field goals, which forced overtime. On the first play of overtime, Jameis Winston threw a pick six — his 30th interception of the season — to give the Falcons a 28-22 win. Despite a strong day from the defense and what felt like an endless number of broken records, the Bucs lost their ninth game of the season.
The Falcons won the coin toss and elected to receive, so they started the game at their own 25-yard line after Bradley Pinion’s opening kickoff went for a touchback. Atlanta got moving quickly, converting an early third down before picking up a couple more first downs with Matt Ryan finding Luke Stocker and Julio Jones. After a couple of Buccaneer penalties, the Falcons found the end zone. Ryan threw to right tackle Ty Sambrailo, who reported as eligible, for a 35-yard touchdown. With Younghoe Koo’s extra point, the Bucs were facing an early 7-0 deficit.
Things didn’t get much better for the Bucs from there, with yet another first-drive turnover. This time, it was Ronald Jones II fumbling the ball away on the first play of the series. Atlanta recovered and took over at the Tampa Bay 29, already leading 7-0.
The Falcons picked up a first down to the Bucs’ 13, but Todd Bowles’ defense held strong after that. Koo came on to drill a 27-yard field goal to put Tampa Bay in a 10-0 hole with 6:55 left in the first quarter.
Koo is true.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 29, 2019
The 27-yd FG is good.
ATL 10 | TB 0 pic.twitter.com/11mphFYhkk
After starting their second drive from their own 25, the Bucs went to the air on first down. Jameis Winston’s first pass of the day was a 37-yard pass to Breshad Perriman, getting the ball inside the Atlanta 40. Jones picked up four yards on the next play before an incompletion set up the Bucs’ first third down of the day. Winston completed a pass to Cyril Grayson, but the receiver was laid out short of the first-down marker. Matt Gay came on to try a 49-yard field goal, but the kick went wide right. The Falcons took over, still leading 10-0.
The Tampa Bay defense of the past few weeks then showed up, with Carlton Davis knocking a pass away on first down and Vita Vea notching a sack on second. Atlanta then came up short on third down thanks to a big hit on Russell Gage, who unwisely was trying to hurdle a defender with both Lavonte David and Devin White closing in on him.
A good punt and an unnecessary roughness call on the Bucs backed the offense up to the 8, which promptly led to a three-and-out. To make matters worse, Pinion’s punt went just 30 yards, setting Atlanta up at the Tampa Bay 41. But the Buccaneer defense continued to step up, eventually forcing a 4th & 1 try at the 32 that was stuffed for no gain. Suh led the charge on the play, getting the ball back to Winston and the offense.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Winston found Perriman again, this time for a gain of 17 up to the Atlanta 49. That brought the game to the end of the first quarter, with the Falcons leading 10-0.
The offense found some life early in the second quarter, with a three-yard run by Peyton Barber preceding a 14-yard screen pass from Winston to Barber. With the ball at the Atlanta 32, the drive briefly went backward due to a holding call on Ryan Jensen. But an 11-yard pass to Barber and a 24-yarder to Perriman set the Bucs up with a 1st & Goal at the 7. The 24-yard pass made Winston the eighth quarterback in NFL history to break the 5,000-yard passing mark in a season.
From the 7, Barber got six yards on first down before losing one on second, setting up a 3rd & Goal at the 2. An incompletion on third down didn’t matter, as the Bucs went for it on fourth and scored. It was a two-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Cameron Brate that got the Bucs on the board, and Gay’s PAT made it a 10-7 deficit with 10:23 left in the second quarter. The touchdown was the 27th of Brate’s Bucs career, which ties him with Mark Carrier for fifth in franchise history.
Brate Spike Activated pic.twitter.com/z8qzn9iIeD— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 29, 2019
The Bucs saw more history on the next defensive series, with Shaquil Barrett sacking Matt Ryan to set the new single-season franchise record at 17.5 sacks. And he did it with Warren Sapp, the previous record-holder, in attendance.
QUARTERBACKS HAVE FAMILIES TOO, SHAQ. pic.twitter.com/Jd9WRcAZh0— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 29, 2019
Just a few plays later, Lavonte David recorded his 1,000th career tackle, joining Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Hardy Nickerson as the only Bucs to reach that mark.
But in non-history happenings, the Falcons saw their drive extended thanks to what was arguably a weak roughing-the-passer call on Vea. Atlanta took advantage, driving inside the Bucs’ 30 before another questionable personal foul call gave them a first down at the 10. Tampa Bay’s front seven got after Ryan from there, forcing him out of the pocket to throw the ball away a couple of times. That forced a 33-yard field goal attempt, which Koo converted to make it a 13-7 lead for the Falcons.
Koo connects from 33 yards out.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 29, 2019
ATL 13 | TB 7 pic.twitter.com/hWzBy8h5d0
On Tampa Bay’s next drive, Winston made his first big mistake of the game. He looked for Justin Watson over the middle, but instead threw his 29th interception of the season. Ricardo Allen returned the ball inside the 20, sending the Bucs defense right back out to try to keep Atlanta to another field goal.
The Tampa Bay defense came through in a major way, forcing a third down at the 10 before Jason Pierre-Paul got to Ryan for a sack-fumble, which was scooped up by White and returned 91 yards for a touchdown. The play was reviewed and the call on the field stood. It meant a lead for the Bucs AND some more history. The 91-yard return was the longest fumble return in team history and it was the team’s sixth defensive touchdown of the year — a new team record. After the PAT, it was 14-13 Bucs with 3:07 left in the first half.
FUN THINGS ARE HAPPENING— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 29, 2019
JPP with the strip sack. Devin recovers and takes it 91 yards to the house. pic.twitter.com/BkoJgP1ePr
The Falcons responded by driving down the field quickly, getting in Bucs territory by the two-minute warning. They found their way into the red zone eventually, but a Pierre-Paul sack — his second of the game — on third down forced another field goal try. Koo’s 45-yard attempt was successful, putting Atlanta ahead 16-14 with 0:58 left in the second quarter.
The Bucs looked content to head into halftime knowing they’d get the ball first in the second half, handing off to Dare Ogunbowale for four yards to start their next drive. But after a 17-yard pass from Winston to Watson, they called their second timeout. It’s a good thing they did, too, because on the next play, Winston fired a dart to Perriman between three defenders for a gain of 31 yards to the Atlanta 24. Two plays later, Winston rolled out to his right and threw the ball up to the end zone. Perriman came down with it. After a Winston two-point conversion run, the Bucs led 22-16.
The Falcons got the ball back with under 10 seconds to go in the half, so they took a knee and headed into the locker room down by six.
Dare Ogunbowale fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, but the Bucs recovered at the 24 to keep possession. On the first play of their drive, Ronald Jones II took the ball 33 yards to the Atlanta 43-yard line. Staying on the ground on the next play was newcomer John Franklin, who picked up 11 yards to the 32. The drive stalled from there, with a 4th & 4 at the 26 forcing a 44-yard field goal attempt by Gay. He missed again, so the Tampa Bay lead remained at 22-16.
Atlanta continued to move the ball pretty well on its next drive, with Ryan managing to get the ball out while under pressure quite a few times. The drive eventually came to a halt at the Tampa Bay 38, with Suh knocking down a pass at the line on third down to force a punt. A 27-yarder to the 11 had the Bucs starting there with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay continued to feed Jones on its next possession, with the second-year back going for eight and 25 yards on his first two carries. That put him at 74 yards for the day around the eight-minute mark of the third quarter after he totaled just four yards in the first half.
After Jones’ 25-yard run, Winston looked deep for Perriman, who was interfered with. He took a shot to the head that originally went uncalled, but Bruce Arians challenged it and won. That moved the ball up to the Atlanta 22. Two plays later, Jones ran for 16 more yards to the 6.
But from there, the Bucs went backward. Winston was sacked at the 14, then O.J. Howard was called for pass interference. That backed the offense up to 2nd & Goal from the 24. After an incomplete pass and an eight-yard run by Jones, out came the field goal unit again. This time, it was a 34-yard field goal. And yet again, Gay’s kick was no good.
Defense stands strong pic.twitter.com/6YRkAr8qEV— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 29, 2019
The Falcons continued to fight their way back on the next drive, picking up a couple of first downs and getting to the Bucs’ 37 before facing a 3rd & 5. That third-down attempt would have to wait, though, as the third quarter came to an end with Tampa Bay clinging to a 22-16 lead.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ryan found Gage for a nine-yard gain and a first down at the Tampa Bay 28. Freeman gained eight on the next play before getting stopped for no gain on second down, setting up a 3rd & 2 at the 20. The red zone defense came up big again. Qadree Ollison was stopped for a gain of one on third down, then William Gholston got a hand on Ryan’s fourth-down pass to force an incompletion. The defensive stop kept the Bucs’ lead at 22-16 with 12:12 left in the game.
With a five-yard carry on first down of the offense’s next drive, Jones went over 100 yards for the first time in his NFL career. But the offense shot itself in the foot after that run, with a holding penalty, an illegal forward pass penalty and a loss on third down forcing a punt.
Going from their own 36, the Falcons continued to move the ball. Austin Hooper caught an 11-yard pass, then Brian Hill ran for seven, nine and one yard on the next three plays to get the ball to the Tampa Bay 34. A nine-yard pass from Ryan to Gage picked up another first down at the 25 as the clock dipped under seven minutes.
The Tampa Bay defense then stood tall at the 25, forcing another Falcons field goal. Koo continued his perfect day, hitting a 43-yarder to cut the Bucs’ lead to 22-19 with 6:27 to go.
Koo connects on the 43 yard FG.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 29, 2019
ATL 19 | TB 22 pic.twitter.com/bY7zrem2Mu
The Bucs got the ball back needing to kill some clock and potentially put the game out of reach. They got one first down, but an intentional grounding call on Winston backed them up and ultimately led to a punt. The Falcons got the ball back at their own 20, trailing by three with 3:01 left.
Ryan hit Freeman for an 11-yard gain on first down, then found Hooper for four yards to set up a 3rd & 3 at the 38 on the other side of the two-minute warning. After the break, Vea collapsed the pocket and ran Ryan right into Barrett for another sack. That brought his season total to 18.5. Just a couple of plays later, he made it 19.5.
But the Falcons wouldn’t go away. On 3rd & 12, Ryan found Justin Hardy for a big gain and a first down. Then, passes of 11 and 12 yards got Atlanta to the 15. With 0:08 seconds left, the Falcons faced a 3rd & 9, already well within Koo’s field goal range. An incomplete pass brought him out for a 33-yard attempt with three seconds to go. Of course, he nailed it to send the game to overtime with the game tied 22-22.
KOO IS TRUE! (again)— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 29, 2019
We're headed to overtime in Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/v0SBUrTNpn
The Bucs won the overtime coin toss, meaning they could end the game with a touchdown. Starting at their 25, the game ended quickly. Winston looked for Brate and was intercepted by Deion Jones, who returned it 28 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It was Winston’s 30th interception of the season, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 picks in one season.
With the loss, the Bucs finished the season at 7-9, their eighth losing record in the last nine seasons.
Quick Notes and Stats
- Jameis Winston finished the first half 10-of-17 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He broke the 5,000-yard passing mark in the second quarter, becoming the eighth quarterback in NFL history to do so.
- But Winston’s second half was much quieter, as he ended the game with just 201 passing yards and those two touchdowns (plus two interceptions) on 13-of-24 passing.
- Breshad Perriman continued his streak of 100-yard games, doing so in the first half. He caught five passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in the first two quarters of play. Unfortunately for the Bucs, those would also be his final numbers.
- Cameron Brate’s second-quarter touchdown was the 27th of his career, which tied him with Mark Carrier for fifth-most receiving scores in franchise history.
- Ronald Jones II ran for 106 yards on 11 carries, marking his first career 100-yard rushing game.
- Matt Gay was 0-for-3 on field goals, making for a frustrating finish to what had been a nice rookie year.
- With two sacks in the first half, Jason Pierre-Paul brought his 2019 total to 8.5. It only took him 10 games.
- Shaquil Barrett now holds the single-season franchise record for sacks. He picked up three in this one to finish 2019 with 19.5.
- Devin White’s 91-yard fumble return for a touchdown was the team’s sixth defensive touchdown of the year, which is a new franchise record. It was also White’s fourth fumble recover and second touchdown of the season.
- The Bucs totaled six sacks, six passes defended and 14 quarterback hits while allowing 4.3 yards per play on the day.
- In the first 30 minutes of the game, the Falcons dominated in time of possession. They held the ball for 20:05 and ran 46 plays, while the Bucs had it for just 9:55 and ran 24 plays. Despite that, the Bucs held a 22-16 lead at the break.
- By the time it was all over, the Falcons had held possession for 36:22 to the Bucs’ 23:45. Atlanta outgained Tampa Bay 373-329, but it took 87 plays to do so.
- The Bucs were flagged 12 times for 97 yards in the game, while the Falcons were flagged five times for 53 yards.
- Tampa Bay finished the day 1-of-8 on third down, while Atlanta was 7-of-18.
The Buccaneers will now head into what is sure to be an interesting offseason, with plenty of decisions to be made by the front office. Stay tuned to Bucs Nation all offseason long for coverage and analysis of everything that goes down.