Looking for a third straight win and a season sweep of the division rival Falcons, the Buccaneers were in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon for a key Week 13 matchup.
With a win, Tampa Bay would extend its NFC South lead to four games with five games left to play in the regular season. It would also help the defending Super Bowl champions stay on track for at least one home game in the playoffs, which could prove essential given the way they’ve played on the road for much of this season.
On paper, the Bucs didn’t have anything to worry about against a Falcons team that they beat 48-25 in Week 2. Tampa Bay is a much better team and though Atlanta came in at 5-6, its wins came against the Giants (4-7), Jets (3-8), Dolphins (5-7), Saints (5-7) and Jaguars (2-9). Again, the Bucs seemingly had nothing to worry about.
However, there was the midweek distraction of Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards being suspended for three games after the league determined they had misrepresented their COVID-19 vaccination statuses. There was also the fact that the team came into play still searching for its first comfortable road victory at of the year. But helping the cause was the return of Carlton Davis from injured reserve, as well as the return of Ali Marpet, who missed last week’s win over the Colts.
The Bucs entered Sunday’s game as 10.5-point favorites, with ESPN FPI’s Matchup Predictor giving them a 79.3% chance to get 9-3 ahead of next Sunday’s marquee matchup against the Bills.
Tampa Bay marched down the field in commanding fashion to open the game with a 7-0 lead and though Atlanta answered right back, the offense kept the pressure on before eventually taking a 20-10 lead. A pick six late in the first half gave the Falcons some life, but the Buccaneer defense pitched a second-half shutout to close out a 30-17 victory. With the win, the Bucs improved to 9-3 and opened up a four-game lead over the rest of the NFC South.
The Falcons won the coin toss and elected to defer, so after a Younghoe Koo kickoff went for a touchback, Tom Brady and the Buccaneer offense began their first possession at the 25-yard line. Last week’s NFC Offensive Player of the Week Leonard Fournette caught a 15-yard pass to open the game before an incompletion and a five-yard pass to Chris Godwin brought up a 3rd & 5 at the 45. Brady found Godwin again on that third down, gaining 11 yards to move the chains and get across midfield. A pass to Fournette for no gain and an incomplete pass by Brady brought up another third down, and on a 3rd & 10, Brady hit Godwin for a gain of six to bring up fourth down and a decision for Bruce Arians. He elected to leave the offense on the field and the unit paid off that gamble as Brady found Fournette for six yards and a first down.
The passing parade continued from there, as Mike Evans got in on the action with two catches for 18 yards, with the second getting Tampa Bay inside the 15-yard line. Three plays later, Brady threw a nice lob over the defender to Fournette, who made a nice catch for the three-yard touchdown. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had a 7-0 lead after a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 5:07.
The Falcons answered the Bucs quickly, converting an early third down on their first drive before Cordarrelle Patterson broke free for a 39-yard run down to the Tampa Bay 17-yard line. On the next play, Mike Davis found a hole and took off for a 17-yard touchdown. Just like that, Atlanta had tied it at 7-7 after a six-play, 75-yard drive that took just 3:13.
After 13 straight pass plays on their first drive, the Bucs went to the ground to open the next series. Fournette got three yards before Brady went back to the air on the next play to find Godwin, who came down with a fantastic catch for a gain of 25. Two plays later, Brady found an open Evans for 36 yards to the Atlanta 11-yard line. A four-yard run and a defensive holding later, the Bucs found the end zone again as Brady connected with Cameron Brate for a three-yard touchdown. Succop’s PAT went off the upright, so Tampa Bay’s lead was just six with 4:23 left in the first quarter.
The Falcons quickly got moving on their second drive in search of another quick response. Matt Ryan found Kyle Pitts for 12 yards across the middle on the first play of the possession before Patterson got six yards on the ground on the next play. An incomplete pass set up a 3rd & 4 and great coverage led to a sack by Ndamukong Suh, forcing the first punt of the day.
After the Atlanta punt, Tampa Bay’s offense took over at its own 20-yard line. Ronald Jones II got two yards on his first carry of the day before his first catch went for no gain and set up a 3rd & 8 inside the final minute of the opening quarter. Brady missed Rob Gronkowski on third down, with the pass going off of the tight end’s fingertips. That brought Bradley Pinion out for a punt, which he sent 60 yards to the 18-yard line. A fumble on the return was recovered by Atlanta, which ended up setting up shop at the 25.
Patterson got five yards on the first play of the Falcons’ next drive, bringing us to the end of the first quarter with the Bucs leading 13-7.
Carlton Davis made a diving pass breakup to open the second quarter before a false start on 3rd & 5 backed the Falcons up to 3rd & 10. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka missed Ryan for a sack on third down and that proved costly, as Ryan found Russell Gage for 19 yards and a first down. Not long after, Atlanta converted another 3rd & 9, with Ryan finding Pitts for 29 yards to the Bucs’ 26-yard line. Two plays later, the Falcons were inside the 15. Cam Gill set the drive back momentarily, dropping Ryan for a sack and a loss of eight. But an 11-yard run by Davis set up a more manageable 3rd & 7 at the 11-yard line. Before the third-down try, Atlanta called its first timeout of the afternoon.
Out of the timeout, Ryan connected with Gage for 10 yards, giving the Falcons a 1st & Goal at the 1. The Bucs held strong from there, though. After a roughing the passer call on Anthony Nelson put the ball inside the 1, Ryan missed on first down, fumbled the snap on second down and then had a pass broken up in the end zone by Jamel Dean on third down. Rather than try for a touchdown on 4th & Goal from the 3, Arthur Smith elected to kick a field goal. Koo drilled the 21-yarder, but that was a win for the Tampa Bay defense as it kept a 13-10 led intact.
Tampa Bay’s offense needed to sustain a drive as it took the field after the defense was on the field for seven minutes. It nearly went three-and-out, with a bad drop by Gronkowski setting up a 3rd & 8 before Evans made a great sideline catch for 15 yards to move the chains. A short run and a holding call on Donovan Smith put the Bucs behind the sticks again a couple of plays later, but Brady hit Godwin for 17 yards to give the offense a fresh set of downs in Atlanta territory. A 12-yard catch and a six-yard run by Fournette got the Bucs inside the 30, then Brady missed Breshad Perriman to bring up a 3rd & 4. With time on third down, Brady found a wide-open Gronkowski and the big tight end did the rest, scurrying into the end zone for a 27-yard score. With the PAT, the Bucs took a 20-10 lead with 4:54 left in the half.
Vita Vea opened the Falcons’ next drive with a sack, mauling Ryan for a loss of eight.
A four-yard run brought the Falcons to 3rd & 14, but Carlton Davis was called for holding to give Atlanta a fresh set of downs. Ryan fumbled the next snap—again—but recovered it to set up 2nd & 11. A nine-yard pass to Gage brought up 3rd & 2, but the Falcons were content to let the clock hit the two-minute warning before running a play.
Out of the two-minute warning, the Falcons picked up a first down. They moved the chains again a couple of plays later before soon facing another third down. On 3rd & 6 at the at the 1:00 mark, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Lavonte David blew up a Mike Davis catch after Devin White came flying in at Ryan. The Bucs then called a timeout with 51 seconds left before the Falcons’ punt. After the kick, Tampa Bay took over at its own 7-yard line with 44 seconds to play in the half.
Not only could the Bucs not get anything going, but they handed momentum to the Falcons heading into halftime. On the second play of the drive, Brady looked for Fournette on a screen only for Marlon Davidson to jump it before walking into the end zone for a pick six. Just like that, Tampa Bay’s lead was down to 20-17 with Atlanta getting the ball to start the second half.
The Bucs decided to drain the rest of the clock after receiving the ensuing kickoff, taking a 20-17 lead into the locker room.
Opening the second half from their own 25, the Falcons immediately moved the chains with a 14-yard pass from Ryan to Davis. But after a false start, a nice run stop by Andrew Adams and a big stop by Shaquil Barrett, Atlanta faced a 3rd & 13. On that play, Ryan avoided a sack and completed a pass to Gage for a first down, but the Buccaneer defense’s next-man-up mentality came up huge. Pierre Desir, who had just subbed in for an injured Jamel Dean, punched the ball loose. Carlton Davis recovered, giving Tampa Bay a huge turnover after what was a brutal end to the first half.
As big as the turnover was, the Bucs didn’t take advantage of it. A six-yard run by Fournette on first down was followed by two incompletions from Brady, with the second being an overthrow of a wide-open Evans, who was streaking down the sideline. Pinion’s 41-yard punt was caught at the 16, which is where the Falcons took over once again.
Patterson ran for two yards and caught a seven-yard pass to start the next Atlanta drive, then barely picked up the first down with a one-yard carry on 3rd & 1. Three plays later, the Falcons converted another 3rd & 1, then two plays later, Gage took a short pass and slipped through for 16 yards into Buccaneer territory. Carlton Davis was injured on the play, but he came back in and broke up a pass two plays later to force a 3rd & 7. And this time—finally—the Tampa Bay defense got off the field. Ndamukong Suh got to Ryan for his second sack of the day to force Atlanta into a punt.
SUH with his second sack of the day ‼️ pic.twitter.com/hGAg05OwR0— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 5, 2021
The Bucs opened their next possession with a five-yard run by Fournette before an injury timeout as Atlanta’s Richie Grant stayed down after the play. After the timeout, Godwin recorded his 10th catch of the day for a first down to the 27. A one-yard pass to Fournette and a seven-yard completion to Godwin then brought up a 3rd & 2, which the Bucs converted thanks to a four-yard run by Fournette. A short pass to Fournette on the next play turned into an 11-yard gain after some broken tackles and just like that, the Bucs were at the 50. A five-yard pass to Perriman and a seven-yarder to Giovani Bernard moved the sticks again, but Tampa Bay faced another third down a few plays later. On 3rd & 7, Brady found Evans for an 18-yard gain to the Atlanta 17, getting the Bucs inside the red zone.
After catching a screen on the next play, Godwin remained down on the turf before walking off with the trainers. Two plays later, Brady connected with Gronkowski for an 11-yard touchdown. With the PAT, the Bucs went up 27-17 late in the third quarter.
Ryan and Davis connected for a six-yard gain to get the next Falcons drive going, bringing us to the end of the third quarter with the Bucs once again leading by 10.
After Patterson opened the fourth quarter with a run for no gain, Vita Vea picked up his second sack of the day, dropping Ryan for a loss of nine to bring up another Atlanta punt.
Two plays into the Bucs’ next drive, Gronkowski made a 15-yard catch to get the ball to the Tampa Bay 47. Brady was nearly intercepted on the next play, then he missed again two plays later to bring Pinion out for a punt. The Falcons took over from their own 16, trailing by 10 with 11:28 to go.
Mike Davis caught a short pass and took it 20 yards to open the next Atlanta offensive series before nearly getting 16 more two plays later before the gain was negated by a holding penalty. The offense got all of that yardage back in two plays, with Patterson running for six yards before Gage went up high and came down with a 17-yard catch near midfield. But the Tampa Bay defense stood tall after that, with William Gholston getting to Ryan on 3rd & 2. Ryan tried to throw the ball away, but he was called for intentional grounding. That led to a Falcons punt with 7:33 to go, though they were down 10.
Early in the Bucs’ next possession, Brady converted a 3rd & 4 with a six-yard pass to Evans. He then found Godwin for a gain of 36 and, two plays later, Godwin set a new franchise record for receptions in a single game with his 14th of the day. His 15th came one play later and that moved the chains again, allowing the clock to tick under four minutes. Tampa Bay continued to kill the clock and took it under two minutes before eventually adding to its lead with a 31-yard field goal by Succop.
At 30-17 with 1:49 to go, things were smooth sailing the rest of the way. The Falcons picked up some garbage-time yards and the Bucs picked up some more injuries—to both Sean Murphy-Bunting and William Gholston—before the clock expired. With its third straight win, Tampa Bay improved to 9-3 ahead of its return to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday.
Quick Notes & Stats
- With the win, Tom Brady improved to 10-0 in his career against the Falcons.
- With his first-quarter touchdown catch, Cameron Brate tied Kevin House for the third-most receiving touchdowns in Buccaneer history (31).
- Tom Brady’s four touchdown passes on Sunday gave him 74 as a Buc, moving him ahead of Doug Williams for the fourth-most in franchise history.
- Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected for their 89th and 90th regular season touchdowns on Sunday, moving them ahead of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the second-most by any duo in NFL history.
- A week after Bruce Arians proclaimed that no one could run on the Bucs, the Falcons totaled 101 yards on the ground in the first half of Sunday’s game.
- Brady finished the day 38-of-51 for 368 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
- Chris Godwin set a new franchise record for receptions in a single game, finishing with 15 for 143 yards.
- Mike Evans added six catches for 99 yards, while Gronkowski totaled four for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
- Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea picked up two sacks each in the game, while Cam Gill added one of his own.
- As a team, Tampa Bay racked up five sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
- The Buccaneer defense struggled on third downs in the game, as the Falcons finished the day 9-of-17.
- Tampa Bay was penalized just three times for 15 yards in the game.
- At 9-3, the Bucs have now matched their best start in franchise history (2002, 2008).
- The Bucs have swept the Falcons in the last two seasons, scoring 30-plus points in all four games.
The Buccaneers (9-3) return to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday afternoon for a matchup against the Buffalo Bills (7-4). Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m.