TAMPA, Fla. – Sunday was billed as a battle for the lead in the NFC South. For that, give these talent-strapped Falcons high praise for taking any kind of real intrigue into the season’s fifth game.

But no surprise that such a day would be won by the guy who has made first place his home, and undoubtedly will get to keep it in the divorce.

Despite all the personal and physiological issues swirling about Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay quarterback continued his bedevilment of the Falcons. If it wasn’t a quarter or so worth of slicing up the Falcons one paper cut at a time then it was having the officials protecting him like he was the last primrose on earth, turning a Grady Jarrett tackle into a hope-killing roughing call.

Whatever it takes, Brady will bring it to bear against a franchise he has now beaten 11 times in 11 tries – Sunday it was Bucs 21, Falcons 15. It is the never-ending meme: The world’s most famous QB kicking an Atlanta franchise in the netherregion.

For the latest installment of degradation, let’s start near the end.

Sunday, the Falcons had done what these Falcons do – carry the good fight to the fourth quarter, even as they fought on without two of their best (running back Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Pitts). They rallied from 21 points down to put up two fourth-quarter touchdowns, even going for two – and converting – after the second to emphasize their intention of winning.

There remained more than four minutes in the game with the Falcons down 21-15, time enough to get the ball back for one last possession, if only the law would allow.

First it was a third-down defensive holding penalty on Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell that kept the Bucs in control of the ball. A borderline kind of call, but one potentially succumbed.

Then came the third-down roughing call on Jarrett that was the final insult, allowing the Bucs to run out the clock. Jarrett, who has been sacking Brady ever since Super Bowl 51, wrapped him up and took him to the ground. It’s called a tackle, a rather common occurrence in football.

But a sin when employed against a national treasure such as the 45-year-old Brady, akin to giving King Charles a noogy. Out came the flag. Down went the Falcons.

Getting anyone to weigh in on the call was a futile quest.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith was as determined to not get fined as he has ever been to run the ball (by the way, his Falcons did grind away at the Bucs, wearing them down with 151 rushing yards).

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Smith said when asked if he felt the Falcons had gotten a fair shake from the officials.

And then pled the fifth, coaching version: “I have to worry about what I can control, what I can do to coach those situations better.”

Jarrett sternly rejected attempts to elicit comment. And told everyone to wait until his radio show in a couple days to hear his side, as if we all won’t have moved on to the Braves-Phillies series by then. He better work blue Tuesday to make the wait worthwhile.

The best thing coming out of the Falcons lockerroom was cornerback Casey Hayward relaying an on-field conversation he had with referee Jerome Boger, asking him would he have made the same rouging call had it been the Falcons Marcus Mariota who was put on the ground. After all, Brady has been known to get concierge treatment.

“The ref told me he would have called it if it was on Mariotta – so you have to think he would have done that if it was Mariotta,” Hayward said.

So, did Hayward feel robbed, knowing there was no guarantee the Falcons would have scored again if the penalty were never called? “Robbed of the opportunity, not robbed of the win. Just got robbed of the opportunity to go down and score and win the game,” he said.

All that the beneficiary, Brady, cared to say was, “I don’t throw the flags.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of the call.

Overall, this was supposed to be the best possible time to catch Brady. He appeared vulnerable, reports of marital problems and a troublesome shoulder ganging up on him. Was this the time to catch him in some sort of Kramer vs. Kramer funk? If only Boger could, he’d have thrown roughing penalties at both those issues, too.

Brady this season has offered further proof that no one’s life is perfect. Here was a guy adorned with more rings than Saturn, overflowing with greatness and good looks, so rich that the only issue he ever had with inflation concerned some underfilled footballs.

But the universe corrects, and all blessings come with a counter-balance. For Brady, that’s apparent now amid reports that his very public marriage to a supermodel is in peril. And to a lesser degree, his decision to keep playing at 45 looks even more suspect because, frankly, his team is nothing special.

But Brady was Brady just long enough to beat the Falcons again. On four consecutive possessions over the second and third quarters he oversaw scoring drives, three of them of 88, 84 and 74 yards. The sharpness that has eluded him and his ever-changing receiving corps showed up just long enough to put the Falcons in another hole from which they couldn’t quite escape.

The day would get progressively worse. Their own 2018 draft bust, Deadrin Senat got his first career sack against his old team. Their leading tackle, Mykal Walker, was lost to a groin injury. Falcon-killing receiver Mike Evans went out with an injury in the first half, only to come back in the second to set up the Bucs second touchdown of the game with a 40-yard reception.

But the source of all pain ultimately can be traced back to Brady.

And who knows, now that football seems the one great constant in his life, he could play for somebody until he’s 50 and torment the Falcons for five years more.