The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons looking to build on the momentum they had gained over the last two weeks. They also wanted to keep as many players healthy as possible heading into their playoff game next week. For the first half of the game, those goals were mostly met. But the second half was a different story, as the Falcons rolled over the Bucs backups, going on to win 30-17.
The Bucs had the opening possession of the ballgame, and drove right down the field, on a 10 play, 70-yard drive, which resulted in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Kyle Rudolph. It was Rudolph's third catch of the season, and the 50th touchdown of his NFL career. The Bucs defense also came out strong, forcing the Falcons to go three and out, after Akiem Hicks sacked Atlanta quarterback Desmond Ridder on third down.
The rest of the game went mostly downhill from there, as the defense gave up a 91-yard touchdown drive on Atlanta’s second possession, and Chris Godwin lost a fumble on the Bucs third possession of the game. The defense did a nice job limiting the Falcons to three points after the turnover, and the offense put together a 14-play drive resulting in a Ryan Succop field goal to tie the game at 10.
Tom Brady broke his own NFL record for pass completions in a season, going 13 for 17 in the first half, which raised his season total to 490 completions. The Buccaneer offense controlled the line of scrimmage, as they rushed for 77 yards, and outgained the Falcons 184 to 78 in first half total yards. They also dominated time of possession, holding on to the ball for over 19 minutes compared to Atlanta’s 10 minutes of possession.
After Devin White recovered a Desmond Ridder fumble late in the second quarter, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert came in, and promptly threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage, to put the Bucs up 17-10 at the half. Once the second half started, the Bucs removed all of their first-string players, and the Falcons went on to outscore them 20-0. Atlanta scored on all four of their meaningful possessions in the second half and ran the clock out on their fifth possession.
Three rookies led the way for Atlanta in their seventh victory of the season. Quarterback Desmond Ridder threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, running back Tyler Allgeier ran for 135 yards, and receiver Drake London caught six balls for 120 yards. As a team, the Falcons ran for a total of 174 yards, and controlled the ball for over 24 minutes in the second half.
The much-anticipated debut of Bucs quarterback Kyle Trask was certainly a disappointment. Trask completed three of his nine passing attempts for a meager 23 yards, as the Bucs were only able to muster 38 total yards in the second half. Trask missed badly on most of his throws and did not look comfortable as the leader of the offense. Granted, he was playing with the backups, and was never given a chance to get in rhythm, but this was not what the team, and the fans, expected to see from the young signal caller.
Chris Godwin reached two milestones on Sunday, completing a season that is worthy of Comeback Player of the Year honors. Godwin hauled in six receptions for 55 yards, which made him only the second player in Buccaneer history to have over 100 receptions. The other player was star receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Godwin also gained over 1,000 yards (1,023 to be exact) for the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was the only starter to play a majority of the game and led the team with 13 total tackles. Defensive back Dee Delaney had eight total tackles, and linebacker K.J. Britt chipped in with seven total tackles. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks had a strong game despite playing limited snaps, totaling three tackles, two of which were for losses, and had the Bucs lone sack of the day. The most encouraging thing about Sunday, was that no defensive player suffered any injuries.
The Buccaneers special team's unit finished the season on a good note. Rookie punter Jake Camarda has performed well all season long and added another solid performance on Sunday. He booted five punts for an average of 46.6 yards, with a long of 66 yards. Camarda was one of the top performing rookies during this season and should be acknowledged accordingly. Kicker Ryan Succop also finished the season on a high note. He made both extra point attempts and kicked a 41-yard field goal. He finishes the season making 31 out of 38 field goal attempts, and 23 out of 24 extra point attempts.
The Buccaneers came out of this game relatively unscathed. The only injury appears to have been sustained by starting center Robert Hainsey. He left early in the first half after injuring his hamstring. Hopefully, this is a minor tweak which will not keep him from playing in next week's playoff contest. Other than that, I think the team accomplished what it needed to, and will head into the playoffs with momentum, and confidence. When the lights shine the brightest, this team tends to respond well.
The Bucs will host a playoff game, but the opponent, and date have yet to be determined.