Leonard Fournette has Bucs storming into rematch with Falcons

Falcons coach Arthur Smith agreed that two teams different from their Week 2 matchup will meet when the Falcons face the defending Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons (5-6) will get a chance to legitimize their playoff bid when they face the Buccaneers (8-3), who are heavily favored by 10 points.

The Bucs, powered by running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Rob Gronkowski, are coming off their most impressive road win of the season. They got hot at the right time last season on their way to the Super Bowl run title.

After consecutive losses to the Saints and Washington to drop to 7-3, the Bucs bounced back with a win over the Giants and a thrilling come-from-behind 38-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Down 10 at the half, the Bucs stormed back behind Fournette, who rushed 17 times for 100 yards and three touchdowns and caught seven passes for 31 yards and a touchdown and Gronkowski, who had seven catches for 123 yards.

“Our blocking units did a helluva job,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said to Tampa media members Monday. “He found some holes. He’s a 240-pound back that can run.”

Fournette’s reliability in the passing game allowed quarterback Tom Brady not to force the deep shots down the field.

“Then usually he’s coming out the backside of Mike Evans’ side and you know he’s getting doubled,” Arians said. “You’re going to have soft coverage, and those 4- or 5-yard check-downs turn into 11 yards real quick. If he breaks a tackle like he did in the two-minute drill, then it’s 13. So, don’t force it down the field.”

What happened to “no risk it, no biscuit?”

Fournette has 51 catches for 354 yards this season, he’s ahead of Evans, who has 50 catches. Wide receiver Chris Godwin leads the team with 67 catches.

“He’s doing a heck of a job in the passing game,” Arians said. “He’s (had) a catch and run on the touchdown, really good throw by Tom. He’s really just playing at a high and consistent level. He’s doing a good job as a pass protector also.”

Fournette’s four touchdowns tied a team-record that was held by Jimmie Giles (1985) and Doug Martin (2012) for most touchdowns in a game.

The Bucs have depth along their offensive line. Guard Ali Marpet (abdomen injury) was out against the Colts, and Aaron Stinnie, his replacement, went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. Nick Leverett, who was active for the first time in 2021, finished the game.

The patch-work offensive line gave up only one sack to the Colts.

Also, linebacker Devin White, cornerback Jamel Dean and safety/nickel back Mike Edwards were injured against the Colts.

“Devin, we’ll see,” said Arians, who’s comfortable giving Monday injury reports. “We’ll limit him Wednesday and Thursday and see what he can do. He did finish the game. He wasn’t (the usual) Devin, but he gutted it out. Dean, again, he’s a wait-and-see guy with a bruised shoulder. It doesn’t look like there’s any structural damage. It’s a pain-tolerance thing. That’s pretty much it. Mike Edwards bruised his knee on that kickoff-return tackle, we’ll wait and see on him.”

The Falcons went toe-to-toe with the Bucs into the fourth quarter Sept. 19, as the score was 28-25. Things went sideways down the stretch that day. Edwards returned two interceptions for touchdowns as the Bucs pulled away for a 48-25 win.

The Falcons are coming off a win over Jacksonville on Sunday and have the opportunity to pull back to .500.

“Like we get ready every week, there’s a different set of challenges,” Smith said. “It’s a talented football team. Won a lot of games the last two years. Got some good veteran players, including possibly the best quarterback to play.”

The Falcons generally are healthy, with only linebacker Deion Jones (shoulder), cornerback Kendall Sheffield (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard (ankle) missing the last game because of injury. There is no update on Calvin Ridley’s status as he’s on the non-football injury list to deal with his mental well-being.

This will be the 57th meeting between the two franchises. The series is tied, 28-28.

Brady is 3-0 against the Falcons since joining the Bucs, who have won four of the past five matchups.

“We’ve got to be ready to go,” Smith said. “Guys should be excited. It’s a big divisional game for us on Sunday here. So, looking forward to the challenge. Good opportunity for us.”

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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo

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

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