A look at Tom Brady and the Buccaneers

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Buccaneers are set to face the Falcons in what will be an early-season battle to determine first place in the NFC South at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Tampa Bay (2-2) has lost its past two games.

The Bucs posted road wins over the Cowboys (19-3) on Sept. 11 and the Saints (20-10) on Sept. 18. The Bucs have lost two at home to the Packers (14-12) on Sept. 25 and to the Chiefs (41-31) on Sunday.

“The goal is to win the division,” Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said. “That’s the first thing. You do that, you’re guaranteed a playoff spot.”

After losing to the Saints and the Rams, the Falcons (2-2) have posted wins over the Seahawks and Browns.

“Those are our expectations as a team,” Matthews said. “You have to take things one week at a time. That is what is at stake this week. Winning is the ultimate thing. Being atop the division after that would be a huge bonus.”

This will be the 58th meeting of the two teams. The Bucs lead the series 29-28 and have won the past four meetings.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but that’s why you play this game,” Matthews said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The Bucs’ normally stout run defense was creased for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries by the Chiefs. With their rushing success on first downs, the Chiefs consistently converted manageable third downs. They were 12-of-17 on third downs, including 8-of-9 in the first half as they built a 28-17 lead.

“Missed tackles, blocking assignments, and they played tougher than us, and they played better than us,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said to the Tampa media Monday.

The Falcons are averaging 168 yards rushing per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL. The Falcons are averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which ranks sixth in the league.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” Bowles said of the Falcons’ retooled offense. “Their run schemes are outstanding, probably one of the tops in the league.”

The Falcons (55.5%) are running the ball more than 30 other teams in the league. Only the Chicago Bears (67%) have a higher percentage.

“(Falcons quarterback Marcus) Mariota does a good job of running the offense,” Bowles said. “They have a lot of pieces to use. Obviously the tight end (Kyle Pitts) is great, they’ve got a first-round receiver (Drake London). They’ve got a lot of pieces, and the offensive line is very tough, so they’ve been running the ball on everybody.”

The Bucs have been without defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (foot injury) for the past two games. When next to Vita Vea, they make for a stout tandem in the middle of the Bucs’ defense.

“Obviously, we want him back as soon as possible, but we want him healthy,” Bowles said. “We’ll see how he moves.”

The Falcons are looking forward to facing the Buc’s defensive front.

“They’ve got a really good (defensive) line and good linebackers,” Matthews said. “It’s going to be one of our biggest challenges. I think the film speaks for itself. ... Throughout the years, they have constantly proven it. That’s been one of the reasons why they’ve been such a good team. It’s going to be a challenge. I can’t say it enough, that we’re looking forward to it.”

The Bucs offense, which is led by quarterback Tom Brady, has been out of sync early in the season.

Brady has tried to lean on running back Leonard Fournette and wide receivers Mike Evans and Russell Gage. Legendary Falcons receiver Julio Jones has played in two games for the Bucs and has four catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns.

“Their defense is playing very well,” Bowles said. “They do a good job keeping you off balance.”

Falcons coach Arthur Smith, whose team has played in four one-score games this season, is looking forward to playing the Bucs.

“I love it, but again, you have to stay objective because there’s nothing that can humble faster than the National Football League,” Smith said. “We have a heck of a challenge this week, we’ve gone against Todd Bowles a few times. ... He’s a fantastic football coach.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD