TAMPA, Fla. — The Falcons put forth a battle against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, before imploding in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs used a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Chris Godwin and two pick-sixes from backup safety Mike Edwards to pull away for the 48-25 victory on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“We’re building something in there and these guys fight,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “So when you go on the road like this against a really good veteran team, our guys kept swinging. It’s unfortunate what happened at the end.”
The Falcons battled from an 18-point deficit to cut it to three, 28-25, but then couldn’t stop Brady and made two blunders to end the game.
“You’ve got a ball game,” Smith said. “We’re 28-25 and we’re backed up. We get to third-and-inches and we don’t convert. They get the short field, they go up and then a couple of tipped balls later and that’s what the score was.
“We’ve got a group of fighters in there. I’m proud to coach them.”
The first pix-six came on a Matt Ryan pass intended for Russell Gage and the other on a pass that was batted in the air. Edwards gathered both and scooted to the end zone, one covering 31 yards, one covering 15 yards.
The Bucs improved to 2-0 and the Falcons dropped to 0-2 on the season.
Ryan had no explanation for the tipped passes.
“That’s part of the game,” Ryan said. “It’s tough. You have to give them credit. They did a good job the entire night of continuing to pressure and getting their hands up. It’s tough to go against, but you know, you have to learn from it and be better and hopefully we can do that across the board as we move forward.”
Brady, who has never loss to the Falcons, tossed five touchdown passes while completing 24 of 36 passes for 276 yards and no interceptions and had a passer rating of 129.7.
Ryan completed 34 of 46 passes for 300 yards and touchdowns. He had three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 80.
Despite the score, running back Cordarrelle Patterson was upbeat after the loss.
“If you are concerned you’re in the wrong sport,” said Patterson, who scored two touchdowns. “It’s football. It’s a kid’s game. We have fun while we are playing it. You just have to keep that same mindset. You can’t get frustrated it’s a long season. Things happen. You have to pick your stuff up and keep moving.”
Here are the five things we learned from the Falcons’ loss:
Falcons show fight
The Falcons were on the verge of being blown out early in the third quarter after going down 28-10, but they fought back and crafted two touchdown drives and Ryan scored on a two-point conversion run to make it 28-25 late in the third quarter.
The first score came on a fourth-and-goal from Tampa Bay’s 3-yard line. Ryan found Calvin Ridley for the touchdown.
After the defense got a stop, Ryan punt together a six-play, 46-yard drive and tossed a 7-yard pass to Patterson for a touchdown. On the two-point conversion, Ryan faked the ball to running back Mike Davis and went off the left side for the score to make it 28-25.
While the Falcons offensive line didn’t get much of a push in the run game, they were able to keep Ryan in one piece for most of the game.
The Bucs had just one sack, but started raising their hands to tip Ryan’s passes. The Bucs had eight pass deflections.
Running backs Davis and Patterson didn’t have much room to run and Ryan got stuffed on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1.
Patterson was stuffed on a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter and dropped for a 3-yard loss.
But Ryan was able to function in the pocket and get out quick passes to his receivers until the Bucs timed up the throws and started batting them down.
Tight end Kyle Pitts, who snagged and quick pass over the middle for a 24-yard gain, finished with five catches for 73 yards.
Big plays early and late
The Bucs attacked the Falcons in their game-opening drive to establish their dominance.
Brady opened with a 20-yard strike to wide receiver Mike Evans. After a 8-yard gain the Ronald Jones, Brady found Evans for a 25-yard pass in the middle of the Falcons’ zone.
After an incompletion and 2-yard run, Brady hit tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone.
The Bucs zipped down the field in six plays and took only 2:38 off the clock.
After Patterson was dropped for the 3-yard loss and punter Cam Nizialek shanked a 33-yard punt, Brady opened the key fourth-quarter drive with a 26-yard pass to Evans. To plays later he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Godwin.
Falcons outside linebacker Dante Fowler got a sack strip that was recovered by linebacker Mykal Walker to thwart the Bucs’ second possession.
But the Falcons’ offense, which was having trouble moving the Buc’s hefty defensive linemen, couldn’t convert the turnover into points.
Defensive tackle Marlon Davidson also got a sack in the third quarter. Fowler had two quarterback hits and Davidson had one late in the third quarter.
“We tried to pressure them up the middle,” linebacker Deion Jones said. “Get him out of the pocket. Get him off the spot. Like I said, make him make mistakes. We just stayed consistent with our rush plan. We just kept chopping at it and you it’s finally starting to come out of us.”
Special teams penalties
The Bucs elected to squib kicks to the up-back Avery Williams instead of kicking into the end zone to Patterson, the four-time Pro Bowler.
The move could have backfired to start the second half.
Williams, who was one of the top returners in the nation at Boise State, broke loose for an apparent 45-yard return and was tackled at Tampa Bay’s 46-yard line. Backup tight end Parker Hesse was called or blocking in the back at the 22-yard line, away from the run. The penalty put the ball at the 12-yard and was essentially a 42-yard penalty.
Two plays later, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Vita Vea tipped a Ryan pass and it was intercepted by Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett who returned it to the 18.
Four plays later, Brady tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Evans to make it 28-10 early in the third quarter.
Earlier in the game, Gage jumped offsides on a fourth-and-1 punt attempt.
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Atlanta Falcons Schedule
Sunday: Falcons at Tampa Bay, Sept. 19 at 4:05 p.m.
Falcons at New York Giants, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.
Washington FT at Falcons, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m.
New York Jets vs. Falcons in London, Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m.
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