TAMPA, Fla. -- The Falcons did this the hard way.

After coughing up the ball three times in the red zone, the Falcons needed a 51-yard field goal by kicker Younghoe Koo at the buzzer to lift them to a 16-13 victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

“I had all of the faith in the unit,” Koo said. “(Holder) Bradley (Pinion) and (long snapper) Liam (McCullough) always do a great job in that situation. They did. All I had to do was my job. They made it so easy for me.”

The win catapulted the Falcons to 4-3 on the season and into sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The Bucs dropped to 3-3.

“For me, especially, that’s awesome, being in first-place,” said tight end Kyle Pitts, who had a big 39-yard gainer to get the Falcons into field goal range. “It was a good divisional win and onto the next one.”

The Falcons should have blown the Bucs out.

“We certainly like to make it hard on ourselves, but at the end of the day, we found a way,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We came up with some good situational football, second time in three weeks.

“We found a way at the last second. Koo, he’s clutch . Guys made plays in big moments. We always feel we have a shot no matter what happened.”

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder completed 19 of 25 passes for 250 yards and did not throw an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 107.1, but had three fumbles that could have been costly.

“I’ve just got to do better job of taking care of the ball,” Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “You know, the one right there on the goal line -- (I) just didn’t get in.”

Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who had a severe headache, played sparingly. Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier split us Robinson’s duties. He was used mostly as a decoy and had just one carry for three yards.

The game was tied 10-10 at halftime. The offense had a chance to take control of the game, but fumbled away a prime scoring opportunities in the redzone right before the half.

The Falcons then started the third quarter with a three-and-out and fumbled again in the red zone.

Later, Ridder fumbled out of bounds while appearing to score a touchdown. Instead of going up 20-10, the Buccaneers got the ball back with 6:30 to play. Smith had discussed eliminating critical mistakes.

“At the end of the day, there’s no magical portion to fix fumbles,” Ridder said. It’s just strapping up and knowing that you have to protect the football.”

The Bucs drove down to the Falcons’ 26 before safety Richie Grant intercepted Baker Mayfield’s pass that was intended for tight end Cade Otton.

“I just did the easy part,” Grant said. “We had the rush. They got in Baker’s face. Then the underneath coverage by Kaden (Elliss). He slowed him up a little bit. Really, I just read the quarterbacks eyes. I saw that the tight end wanted to break out. I ran out there and the ball was there. I did the easy part. Everybody else did the hard thing.”

The Falcons couldn’t pick up a first down and were forced to punt, giving Tampa Bay the ball with 2:36 left, but no time outs. Mayfield got loose for a 31-yards gain down the Falcons’ 35-yard line with 1:57 to play.

The Bucs drove to the Falcons’ eight-yard line but had to settle for a McLaughlin 36-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 with :45 seconds left.

The Falcons could not get any consistency on offense. Their first eight possessions went: touchdown, punt, field goal, fumble, punt, fumble, field goal and touchback.

Instead of blowing the Buccaneers out, the Falcons let them hang around.

For the second game in a row, the Falcons scored on their opening drive.

On the eighth play of the drive, Ridder faked the ball to Tyler Allgeier and then raced around left end from two yards out for the score. The drive covered 58 yards, with Ridder completing three passes to tight end Jonnu Smith for 27 yards and one pass to KhaDarel Hodge for 19 yards to get the drive started.

The Buccaneers answered with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to Mike Evans, who had gotten behind cornerback A.J. Terrell.

After an exchange of punts, Ridder tossed a 45-yard bomb to Scotty Miller and the former Bucs player partied like it was 1999. Despite Miller’s histrionics, the drive stalled at the five-yard line and Koo made a 24-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 10-7.

“Yeah, I’ve just kind of been waiting on that big moment this year,” Miller said. “I went up against that defense a lot over the last four or five years. So, to get a chance to do it in a game against those guys was….I was just ready for it. Des put a great ball out there. Just grateful to be able to make a play.”

The Buccaneers put together a 15-play scoring drive aided by a Jeff Okudah defensive pass interference call that kept the drive alive. Tampa Bay kicker Chase McLaughlin added a 24-yard field.

It was a poor display of American Football at the end of the first half by the Falcons. Ridder was sacked and fumbled while they were in at least field goal range.

On third down-and-goal from the 11, Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett ran right around right tackle Kaleb McGary and left guard Matt Bergeron was beaten by rookie Calijah Kancey. Barrett and Kancey combine to sack Ridder and he fumbled. Cornerback Jamel Dean recovered the fumble.

On their second possession of the third quarter, the Falcons drove from their 27 to Tampa Bay’s 1 yard line. Ridder fumbled the snap from center and Tampa Bay’s Yaya Diaby (North Clayton High) recovered the fumble.

It was Koo’s second game-winning kick this season and seventh of his career. His seven game-winning kicks are tied with Las Vegas’ Daniel Carlson for the most game-winning field goals as time expired (including overtime) since the start of the 2021 season.

The Falcons are set to play the Titans at 1 p.m. Sunday in Nashville.

The Bow Tie Chronicles

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