The Falcons had their opportunities to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions, but were not up to the task Sunday.

Tampa Bay, with some suffocating defense and a heavy dose of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Godwin, defeated the Falcons 30-17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s football,” running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. “(Expletive) happens. You’ve got to be a man about it. You’ve got to live up to the expectations, and sometimes you don’t. That was one of the best teams in the NFL. We’re are good team, too.”

The Bucs improved to 9-3 on the season, while the Falcons, who blew a chance to legitimize their playoff aspirations, dropped to 5-7.

“We fought our (expletive) off the whole game, and unfortunately, we didn’t get the win,” Patterson said. “We just have to continue to just keep fighting.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Falcons had the ball with the chance to take the lead in the third quarter, but fumbled away the opportunity. Also, in the second quarter from the half-yard line they couldn’t punch the ball across for a touchdown and had to settle for field goal.

Against Brady and the Bucs, the Falcons were not in position to squander those prime chances.

Brady completed 38 of 51 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. He is now 10-0 against the Falcons.

Gronkowski caught four passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Godwin had 15 catches for 143 yards for the Bucs, while wide receiver Mike Evans had seven catches for 99 yards.

“Godwin is a good player,” Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. “They found some (opportunities) for him, and he capitalized on them. That was just in the flow of the game.”

The Falcons scored on two of their first three possessions, but were blanked over the next five possessions, which ended with a punt, a fumble and three punts. Their last drive ended with an incomplete pass in the end zone at the buzzer.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who calls the plays, was a little defensive when asked about the offense bogging down.

“Look, we’ve continued to improve,” Smith said. “Look at the last two games. We did pretty good running the football. Had a chance here. That’s a good football team. We made too many (mistakes). We turned the ball over. Make some mistakes, it’s hard to beat a good football team like that.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith discusses on and off the field following the team's 30-17 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Here are five things we learned from the the NFC South game:

1. Gage’s fumble: With the score 20-17, the Falcons had a chance to take the lead on their opening drive of the second half.

The Falcons were on the move, but wide receiver Russell Gage had the ball popped free by Tampa Bay cornerback Pierre Desir. The fumble was recovered by Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis at Tampa Bay’s 37-yard line.

The fumble stopped the promising drive.

“They made a play,” Smith said. “We have to continue to work on that. We’ll be cleaner. So, call it damaging. Call it deflating. We don’t use those words. We’ll continue to swing and fight. We’ll fight till the finish.”

The Falcons defense forced a punt, but the offense stalled on third-and-7 from the 40-yard line when Tampa Bay’s Ndamukong Suh whipped left guard Jalen Mayfield and sacked Ryan for a 9-yard loss.

The Falcons punted, and the Bucs got the ball at their 13-yard line.

Brady converted on three third downs, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski with safety Erik Harris in coverage with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. The extra point made the score 27-17.

It was a 14-play, 87-yard drive that took 5:43 off the clock and put the Buccaneers back in control of a two-score game.

2. Falcons got cute: Instead of pounding the ball in from the 1-yard line, the Falcons got cute, and it backfired. They’d been running the ball well against the Bucs, but apparently didn’t like their short-yardage offense against the Bucs’ stout defensive front.

After Gage caught a pass for a 10-yard gain on a third-and-7 from the 11, the Falcons had the ball at the 1.

Ryan missed on a play-action pass, but the Bucs were called for roughing the passer to move the ball inside the 1. Ryan passed again from the half-yard line. They tried to run on second down, but Ryan had a bad exchange with center Drew Dalman and lost two yards.

On third-and-goal from the 3, Ryan’s pass for Patterson was incomplete.

Koo came on and kicked 21-yard field goal to make the score 13-10.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

“We’re trying to call plays to score touchdowns,” Smith said. “If you’re asking if we called a run, we did, but we had a snap issue.”

The Bucs promptly went on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Brady connected with Gronkowski for a 27-yard touchdown. Gronkowski won a battle with Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins and pulled away for the score. The extra point put the Bucs up 20-10.

3. Rushing attack: Tampa Bay entered the game with the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, which was giving up only 81 yards per game.

The Falcons, coming off a season-high 149-yard performance against the Jaguars, knew they’d have to run the ball against the Bucs.

Patterson and Davis led the way for the Falcons. Patterson had 13 carries for 78 yards, and Davis had four carries and 32 yards. The Falcons rushed 23 times for 121 yards.

The Falcons became only the fifth team to rush for more than 100 yards against the Bucs. The Saints (152), Bears (143), Colts (107) and Eagles (100) are the other teams to hit the century mark against the Bucs’ defense.

The Falcons offense bogged down after their first three possessions.

“The run game,” Patterson said. “We just (didn’t) run the ball as good as we did in the first half in the second half. I put that on me. I have to be better. I had a fumble. That’s can’t happen. In crucial moments like that I can’t fumble.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (right) and teammates react after defensive lineman Marlon Davidson intercepts Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for a pick-six at the end of the second quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, Dec 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (right) and teammates react after defensive lineman Marlon Davidson intercepts Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for a pick-six at the end of the second quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, Dec 5, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (right) and teammates react after defensive lineman Marlon Davidson intercepts Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for a pick-six at the end of the second quarter in a NFL football game on Sunday, Dec 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

4. Davidson made a play: With less than a minute to play in the first half, Falcons defensive tackle Marlon Davidson stepped in front a pass intended for running back Leonard Fournette and scored from 3 yards out.

The touchdown, the first of Davidson’s career, made the score 20-17.

“That was awesome,” Jones said. “Marlon made a great play. Scored on defense, something that we’ve been trying to do for a minute. He was the one who set it off.”

Davidson was not made available to the media after the game.

5. Opening touchdowns: The Bucs came out throwing the ball around on their opening drive. Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich called 13 pass plays, and Brady completed 11 of them, as they drove 75 yards to a touchdown.

Brady tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Fournette for the score.

The Falcons answered with a pound-and-ground attack.

The Falcons covered 75 yards in six plays, including a 39-yard run by Patterson and a 17-yard touchdown run by Davis.

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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Next four games

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26