Fresh off of their sloppy-but-thrilling 31-29 win over the Cowboys in the 2021 NFL season opener, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers returned to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon for an NFC South matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
Tampa Bay struggled a bit more than expected last Thursday when Dallas came to town, with the defense unable to muster up much pressure on Dak Prescott thanks to the quick throws and snap judgments that the offensive game plan called for. Losing Sean Murphy-Bunting to an injury certainly didn’t help either, and the Bucs were certainly going to need an answer for his absence on Sunday as Matt Ryan and the Falcons came to town. It didn’t help that Carlton Davis, who starred in Week 1, entered the game with a hamstring injury.
For all off the corrections needed on the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneer offense entered play on Sunday looking to expose a Falcons defense that was dominated in a 32-6 loss to the Eagles last week. Atlanta is very much in a rebuilding phase, with new head coach Arthur Smith hoping to start a turnaround for the Falcons, who have been on a steady decline since blowing a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI back in 2017. Speaking of Brady, he entered Sunday’s game with an 8-0 record all-time against Atlanta.
The Bucs were overwhelming 12.5-point favorites coming into Sunday, with ESPN’s FPI matchup predictor giving them a 78.5% chance to win.
Tampa Bay perhaps got more of a fight than many expected, as Atlanta got within 28-25 in the fourth quarter after falling behind 28-10 early in the second half. But Tom Brady’s fifth touchdown pass of the game and two Mike Edwards pick sixes allowed the Bucs to pull away with a 48-25 win that sent them to 2-0 on the young season.
The Bucs won the coin toss and elected to receive to begin the game, so Tom Brady and the offense came out to start things off at their 25-yard line after a touchback on the kickoff. It was a quick start for Tampa Bay, with Brady faking a handoff to Ronald Jones II and finding Mike Evans for 20 yards to get the ball near midfield. Jones picked up eight yards with his first carry on the next play and then Brady went back to Evans again for another big gain to the Atlanta 22-yard line. Not long after, following an incompletion and a short run, the Bucs found the end zone. It was Brady and Rob Gronkowski linking up for a touchdown for the third time this season. This one came from 20 yards out and with Ryan Succop hitting the extra point to start his birthday game, the home team had an early 7-0 lead. It was a quick six-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just 2:38.
After a short kick and a decent return, the Falcons opened their first drive from their own 27-yard line. The Tampa Bay defense had the first play well-scouted, with Matt Ryan dumping the ball off to Mike Davis for no gain. Davis picked up seven yards on second down and, after an injury timeout with Carlton Davis down on the field, Atlanta missed on 3rd & 3 thanks to solid coverage by Jordan Whitehead. It was a quick three-and-out, which got the ball back to Brady and the red-hot offense. And the unit got great field position, thanks to a poor 30-yard punt to the Tampa Bay 36.
Brady opened the next drive with a 16-yard completion to Chris Godwin across midfield before Leonard Fournette got in on the action with a seven-yard run to the Atlanta 41. Brady followed that play with a beautiful screen to Fournette, who got 16 yards before getting pushed out of bounds at the 25. The Atlanta defense continued have no answer from there, with Brady hitting Gronkowski for nine more yards and Fournette getting three more for another first down to the 13. Fournette picked up another nice gain on a screen a couple of plays later, but a personal foul on Ryan Jensen backed the Bucs up. Then, things went south for Tampa Bay. Dante Fowler got to Brady and knocked the ball loose for a sack-fumble, which was recovered by the Falcons at their own 25.
Starting from the 29, the Falcons found a little more success to open their next drive. Ryan found Calvin Ridley for nine yards to set up a manageable second down. After a loss of one by Davis brought up 3rd & 2, Ryan connected with Russell Gage for Atlanta’s first first down of the afternoon. But the drive stalled there, with the defense forcing a 4th & 1. The Falcons tried to draw an offsides, but a false start instead backed them up to a 4th & 6. And after Cameron Nizialek’s punt went for a touchback, the Buccaneer offense came back out to go from their own 20.
The Bucs didn’t move the ball much from there, with Jones getting two yards on first down and Brady missing on second and third down to force a punt. Reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Bradley Pinion delivered a 48-yard punt and after a six-yard return, the Falcons took over at their own 36.
Tampa Bay’s defense continued to stand tall on Atlanta’s next series, forcing a 4th & 1 try near midfield. Ryan was stuffed on a sneak attempt, giving the ball back to the Buccaneer offense at Atlanta’s 46.
After a false start on Gronkowski and 13 yards on the next two carries by Fournette, the Bucs sent the game to the second quarter with a 7-0 lead and a 3rd & 2 coming up.
Brady opened the second quarter with an eight-yard pass to Godwin, getting the ball down to Atlanta’s 30. Fournette gained another eight yards on the next play before Godwin drew a pass interference call in the end zone to set up a 1st & Goal at the 1. One play later, it was Brady and Gronkowski connecting again to put Tampa Bay up by two scores. After Succop’s PAT, it was 14-0 with 14:07 to go in the second quarter.
The Bucs stayed away from Cordarrelle Patterson again on the ensuing kickoff, but a good return set the Falcons up at the 34. A short pass to Gage followed by a 23-yarder to Patterson got the ball into Tampa Bay territory, then Kyle Pitts announced his presence by getting wide open for a 24-yard gain to the 14. Two plays later, Patterson found the end zone from 10 yards out to pull Atlanta within one score. Younghoe Koo’s PAT made it 14-7 to cap a five-play, 66-yard drive that took just 2:19.
Going from the 24-yard line to start their next drive, Brady had Evans deep but overthrew him. But the Bucs rebounded, with Brady hitting Gronkowski for nine yards and Jones picking up nine more on the next play to move the chains. The drive stalled at midfield, though, with a six-yard Tyler Johnson catch sandwiched between two incompletions. That brought Pinion out for another punt, which he dropped inside the Atlanta 20, setting the Falcons up at their own 11 with 10:05 left in the first half.
Ryan looked deep for Ridley to start the next Falcons possession, but Antoine Winfield Jr. broke up the pass with a great play. After some crowd noise caused Ryan to call a timeout, a completion to Tajae Sharp set up a 3rd & 2. It was a big down for the Falcons, but a false start made things a little more difficult. And before the 3rd & 7 play, the Falcons had to burn their second timeout within the last three plays. They overcame the penalty and the crowd noise, though, with Ryan finding Pitts for 24 yards to the Bucs’ 38. Tampa Bay forced another third down a few plays later, but the Falcons converted again, this time with a sideline catch by Hayden Hurst.
Just when Atlanta was gaining some momentum, the Buccaneer defense took a stand. Vita Vea and Anthony Nelson dropped Davis for a loss of one on the next play before a short gain on second down brought up 3rd & 9. And on that third down, pressure from the front seven finally got to Ryan, with Ndamukong Suh bringing him down for a loss of seven to force a punt.
A four-yard run by Fournette on the first play of Tampa Bay’s next drive set up a 26-yard connection between Brady and Godwin, then Brady finally found Antonio Brown for the first time on the afternoon two plays later for 17 more yards across the Atlanta 40. That brought us to the two-minute warning, with the Bucs leading 14-7 and looking to add on before halftime.
Coming out of the two-minute warning, O.J. Howard made his presence felt with a 21-yard catch to Atlanta’s to the 15. Fournette fought hard for eight more yards on the next play, bringing up a 2nd & 2 at the 7-yard line before a timeout with 54 seconds left in the second quarter. Fournette then got four more yards to the 3, moving the chains and setting up a 1st & Goal. After another timeout, it was Mike Evans finding the end zone for the first time this season. His three-yard touchdown catch and Succop’s third straight successful PAT gave Tampa Bay a 21-7 lead with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Atlanta got its drive started at the 35 with a 14-yard pass from Ryan to Pitts, but no timeout was called. The clock ticked under 25 seconds and the Bucs looked to have made a massive play, with pressure getting to Ryan and causing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Devin White. However, the refs flagged Shaquil Barrett for offsides on the play despite the fact that Barrett had simply timed the snap perfectly. So, instead of a 28-7 game, it was still 21-7 with Atlanta having second life to end the half.
THIS IS NOT OFFSIDES. Should have been a Bucs defensive TD. Atlanta now driving… pic.twitter.com/UIOLrFItiw— Steven Cheah (@StevenCheah) September 19, 2021
Atlanta got another break from the officials on the very next play, with Carlton Davis delivering a clean hit near the sideline only to be called for unnecessary roughness. Another free 15 yards and a first down inside Koo’s field goal range. The Falcons got another five yards on a Jason Pierre-Paul offsides, then Koo drilled a 36-yard field goal to make it a 21-10 halftime lead for the Bucs.
During halftime, the Buccaneers inducted legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin into the Raymond James Stadium Ring of Honor.
The Bucs kicked short again on the opening kickoff of the second half and it backfired with a long return, but a block in the back penalty pushed Atlanta back to its 12-yard line to start the third quarter. And after an eight-yard run by Davis opened the drive, Tampa Bay’s defense got some retribution for what transpired at the end of the first half. Vea tipped Ryan’s pass at the line and it fell into the hands of Barrett to set the Bucs up with a first down at the Falcons’ 18.
After Brady was nearly intercepted on the next play, he found Cameron Brate for eight yards to set up a 3rd & 2 at the 10. With no one open, Brady scrambled for six yards to bring up 1st & Goal at the 4-yard line. Godwin drew another pass interference call on the next play, which put the Bucs in business at the goal line. And on the next play, Brady and Evans linked up for their second touchdown of the game.
Tampa Bay finally kicked the ball deep after its fourth touchdown and it went for a touchback, putting the ball at the 25 to start the Falcons’ next drive. Ryan connected with Ridley, Gage and Ridley again on three straight passes to start the possession, getting the ball to midfield. A few plays later, Ryan and Patterson linked up for a 23-yard gain to the Bucs’ 23. It initially looked like Patterson slipped a tackle and made his way to the end zone, but the officials said he stepped out at the 23. Atlanta tried to challenge the play, but it wasn’t a challengeable play.
Nonetheless, Atlanta kept driving. The Bucs forced a 3rd & 8 and Devin White came through untouched on a blitz, but Ryan sidestepped him and completed the pass to Olamide Zaccheaus for a first down. Then, after a Gage catch down to the 1, Patterson fumbled a snap out of the wildcat formation and lost nine yards back to the 10. On 3rd & Goal from the 10, Ryan found Pitts for seven yards. And needing to go for it on fourth down, Atlanta converted. Ryan found Ridley for a three-yard touchdown and with Koo’s PAT, the Falcons got back within 28-17 with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
After a short Jaydon Mickens return gave the Bucs the ball at the 23, the offense quickly went three-and-out. Fournette caught a first-down pass and fumbled the ball away, but it went out of bounds and ended up as a gain of only two. Then, after A.J. Terrell made a great diving pass breakup on second down, Brady was sacked to force a punt. And after a delay of game penalty, Pinion was left to punt from the back of his own end zone. Even with a booming punt, the Falcons started their next drive in Tampa Bay territory.
Mike Davis ran for eight yards to start the Falcons’ next series, but a false start on the following play negated some of that yardage. Pierre-Paul knocked a pass down at the line on the next play, bringing up a crucial 3rd & 7 with under four minutes to go in the third quarter of an 11-point game. Atlanta kept the momentum, converting with a 22-yard pass from Ryan to Ridley. A couple of plays later, Carlton Davis was flagged for a facemask and on the play after that, Ryan and Patterson linked up for a score. And with a successful two-point conversion attempt, Atlanta was within 28-25 with under two minutes to go in the third quarter.
Scotty Miller returned the ensuing kickoff past the 30-yard line and the Bucs quickly faced a crossroads. Jones picked up nine yards on a first-down catch before stepping out of bounds, bringing up a 2nd & 1 instead of what looked like it could’ve been a first down. He was then stuffed for no gain on second down and Johnson couldn’t come up with a catch on 3rd & 1, which led to a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down from the Bucs’ own 41. Jones got some redemption, bursting up the middle for a gain of five to move the chains and bring us to the end of the third quarter with Tampa Bay clinging to a 28-25 lead.
A holding call on Gronkowski to open the fourth quarter set the Bucs back to a 1st & 20 back at their own 36. Brady missed Gronkowski on first down, then Deion Jones brought the quarterback down for a sack on second down. Forced all the way back into a 3rd & 27 at their own 29, the Bucs had to play it safe. Brady found Giovani Bernard for just 10 yards, leading to a punt that would give the ball back to the Falcons, who would have a chance to take their first lead of the day. Luckily for Tampa Bay, Pinion delivered again. He dropped a 57-yard punt inside the 10 and Andrew Adams downed it at the 4, giving the Falcons a long way to go with 13:04 left in the game.
The Falcons immediately created some space for themselves, with Ryan finding Davis for eight yards to the 12. Patterson was stopped for just a one-yard gain on his second-down catch, then Rakeem Nunez-Roches came up with one of the biggest plays of the day, dropping Patterson for a three-yard loss to force a key punt.
Whereas Pinion delivered a massive punt a few minutes earlier, Atlanta didn’t get a good punt from Nizialek. He shanked it out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 43, which made it just a 33-yarder. It came back to hurt the visitors, as Brady hit Evans for a gain of 26 yards to the 17 to start the drive. Then, after a five-yard pass to Fournette, Brady and Godwin connected for a 12-yard touchdown. With Succop’s PAT, the Bucs had some breathing room with a 35-25 lead.
Antoine Winfield Jr. made a nice stop for just a two-yard gain on the first play of the Falcons’ next possession, then Pierre-Paul stopped Davis to force a third down. The next play was the game, as William Gholston pressured Ryan, allowing Mike Edwards to jump the pass, tip it to himself, and return it for a pick six. Succop’s PAT hit the left upright, but the Bucs were suddenly up 41-25 with 7:53 to go.
The Bucs really put the game away on the next drive, with some solid tackling setting up a 4th & 2 attempt at the 43. On that fourth-down try, Devin White came through the line untouched again to force a Ryan incompletion.
Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t do much to kill the clock, eventually getting stuffed for no gain on a fourth-down try in Falcons territory. But it didn’t matter, as the defense continued to shut things down. The Falcons were technically still in it, down 16 with the ball and about four minutes to work with. But the “grave diggers” put everything beyond doubt. On a brilliant call by Todd Bowles, both Carlton Davis and Mike Edwards came in free on outside blitzes. Davis tipped Ryan’s pass high into the air and Edwards came down with it before returning it for yet another pick six. After the PAT by Succop, Tampa Bay had a 48-25 lead.
Former Buc Josh Rosen replaced Ryan on the next Atlanta possession, but by then, the game was well over. The Falcons went nowhere and when the Bucs got the ball back, they ran the clock down to seal a 48-25 win that got them to 2-0 on the season.
Quick Notes & Stats
- With the 48-25 win, the Bucs have now scored 30+ points in nine straight wins, setting a new NFL record.
- Overall, Tampa Bay has won 10 consecutive games dating back to Week 14 of the 2020 season.
- Tom Brady completed 24 of his 36 pass attempts for 276 yards and five touchdowns. His five touchdown passes tied the Bucs’ single-game passing touchdown record.
- Mike Evans came up huge for Tampa Bay in Week 2, catching five passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
- Rob Gronkowski had another big game, catching four passes for 39 yards and two more touchdowns. He now has four scores on the season just two games in.
- It was another productive day for Chris Godwin, who brought in four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.
- Devin White tallied three quarterback hits in the win.
- With his two pick sixes, Mike Edwards became the second player in franchise history to get two in a regular season game. Ronde Barber is the only other, though Dwight Smith also did it back in Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Tampa Bay finished with three turnovers, with Edwards’ two interceptions being preceded by a Shaquil Barrett interception.
- Penalties were an issue once again for the Bucs, as they were flagged nine times for 83 yards.
- With Sunday’s win, Tom Brady is now 9-0 against the Atlanta Falcons in his career.
The Buccaneers (2-0) hit the road next week for the first time this season, heading to Los Angeles to take on the Rams (2-0). Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m.