Tom Brady broke the Falcons’ hearts, again.

Brady, the Falcons’ Super Bowl LI nemesis now with Tampa Bay, tossed a 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter to rally the Bucs to a 31-27 victory before 10,703 fans Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game,” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “He’s a great competitor to be doing what he’s doing for a long time. We’ve been on the short end before, but I didn’t know the all-time record (7-0).

“At the end of the day, when you’re playing Tom Brady, you know he’s never out of the fight as I’ve learned too many times.”

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The Falcons knew that no lead was too big or too safe when playing against the iconic Brady. His record against the Falcons includes the 34-28 overtime Super Bowl LI victory, where the Patriots stormed back from a 28-3 deficit.

On Sunday, the Falcons led 17-0 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter before the Bucs got into gear. Like in Super Bowl LI, the lack of a rushing attack was an issue.

The loss was the Falcons’ fourth blown lead in the fourth quarter this season and they have another game, against the Chargers, that they loss at the buzzer.

“We just haven’t been finishing and we haven’t been good in certain areas of football right now,” Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley said. “We just haven’t been good in those moments.”

With two cornerbacks out, former practice squad member and undrafted rookie Tyler Hall ended up in one-on-one coverage and was scorched by the speedy Brown, the former Pittsburgh Steeler who’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro player.

“We were in man-to-man coverage ang got into a stack,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “We had a bad signal, a bad communication and Tyler got beat. Got put into a bad matchup and got beat on the play. That was on us.”

Brady won another passing shoot out against the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan.

Brady completed 31 of 45 passes for 390 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 110.4. Ryan, bounced back from a three interception game, to complete 34 of 49 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 110.6.

ExploreMatt Ryan on loss to Tom Brady, Bucs

“We had some good chances,” Ryan said. “We missed on a couple. We need to make a couple more plays as a group.”

The Bucs, who are fighting for a NFC playoff berth, improved to 9-5, while the Falcons dropped to 4-10.

Here are the five things we learned from the loss:

1. Defense holds Brady early: The Falcons, moving the ball through the air without the benefit of a rushing attack, jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead.

While the defense held Brady in check, Ryan tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage, a 12-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley and kicker Younghoe Koo made a 32-yard field in the final minute of the second quarter.

The defense held the Bucs’ to 60 total yards and forced them to punt on all four of their possessions.

The 60 yards allowed was the fewest by the Falcons at halftime this season. The last time they allowed less (33 yards) was in Week 14 to Carolina in 2010.

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The Falcons got two sacks in the first half off blitzes. Linebacker Deion Jones and free safety Sharrod Neasman had sacks to thwart drives. For Neasman, who started for Ricardo Allen at free safety, it was his first career sack.

“Our defense was playing a bunch of tight sticky man coverage,” Morris said. “Those guys did a really good job in the first half. We were not able to maintain it in the second half.”

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady throws under pressure from the Falcons during fourth-quarter comeback Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady throws under pressure from the Falcons during fourth-quarter comeback Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. The Buccaneers won 31-27. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

2. Brady got rolling: Brady and the Bucs got rolling in the third quarter.

The Bucs opened with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped on a 1-yard run by running back Leonard Fournette to make it 17-7.

The Falcons answered with their own touchdown drive.

Ryan tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst. The Falcons covered 75 yards in seven plays and took 3:53 off the clock.

The Bucs answered with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin to make it 24-14.

The Bucs defense held the Falcons’ to a three-and-out. and received the ball back with 2:53 left in the third quarter.

ExploreDefense could not stifle Tom Brady for entire game

Rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell aided the Bucs with pass interference and personal foul (facemask), that gifted Brady and Buc’s 28 yards and helped them move into the red zone at the 17-yard line.

The Buccaneers later benefitted from linebacker Edmond Robinson’ pass interference. He was called for wrestling with Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski. On the next play, Fournette scored from a yard out to make it 24-21 with five seconds left in the third quarter.

The penalties helped the Bucs cover 76 yards in seven plays while just taking 2:48 off the clock.

“When those guys are getting hot, we have to get hotter,” Morris said.

3. Ridley was unstoppable. With the Bucs playing mostly soft zones and hoping that their pressure would get to Ryan, Ridley found holes to make catches. He had 10 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.

“The way that we talk in the locker room, we’ve still got our spirits up,” Ridley said. “Man, we know we are not this 4-10 team. We know we are better. We just haven’t been finishing and we haven’t been good in certain areas of football right now.”

Falcons wide receiver Calving Ridley is wide open for a touchdown throw from Matt Ryan against Buccaneers' Sean Murphy-Bunting Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons wide receiver Calving Ridley is wide open for a touchdown throw from Matt Ryan against Buccaneers' Sean Murphy-Bunting Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

4. Pass blocking. Morris challenged the offense to have some better protection for Ryan and they came through early. The Bucs did not sack Ryan through the three quarters and only had one quarterback hit.

In the fourth quarter, they had three sacks and three quarterback hits.

In the two meetings last season, the Bucs registered 12 sacks and 28 quarterback hits on Ryan.

The Falcons started Matt Gono at right tackle and he was stout in pass protection. Also, left guard James Carpenter, who missed the last two games returned to the lineup.

Right tackle Kaleb McGary who missed last weeks’ game while at home in Washington to attend to personal family matter played in the second quarter.

5. Injury report. Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson left the game with an illness in the second quarter and did not return.

Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver (cramps) left in the third quarter and did not return and Carpenter (groin) left in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay cornerback Carlton Davis left the game with a groin injury in the third quarter and did not return.

Falcons’ final three games

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 27

Falcons at Buccaneers at 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 3

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