Inside the Falcons’ latest loss to Buccaneers

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is knocked to the turf by the Buccaneers during the second half during a 30-17 loss in a NFL football game on Sunday, Dec 5, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is knocked to the turf by the Buccaneers during the second half during a 30-17 loss in a NFL football game on Sunday, Dec 5, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Buccaneers moved to the brink of clinching the NFC South title with a 30-17 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. The Bucs (9-3) won their third consecutive game and pushed their division lead to four games over the Falcons, Panthers and Saints (all 5-7) with five games remaining.

Here are the highlights from Sunday’s game:

Play of the game: With the Buccaneers clinging to a three-point lead (20-17) late in the third quarter, Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining in the period. It was the second Brady-to-Gronkowski touchdown completion on the day. It completed a 14-play, 87-yard drive and gave the Buccaneers a comfortable lead that kept the Falcons in the distance the rest of the game. The touchdown pass was the third third-down conversion of the drive.

The Brady-Gronkowski duo has combined for 90 regular-season TDs, passing Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates for No. 2 in NFL history. Only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have more with 112.

Offensive game ball: Tom Brady. The Falcons, like much of the NFL, have to be sick of the quarterback. Brady completed 38 of 51 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns in the latest win. The Falcons are now 0-10 against Brady all-time.

Defensive game ball: Marlon Davidson. The Falcons defensive lineman accounted for six points with an interception return for a touchdown of Brady. The Buccaneers got greedy near the end of the half, deep in their own territory, only to have Davidson bring the Falcons to within three points. He picked off a short pass from Brady and ran in from three yards out to send the Falcons into intermission trailing only 20-17.

Key stat: Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea keyed a pass rush the Falcons couldn’t solve. The Buccaneers’ defensive line duo each had two sacks. As a team, the Bucs had five sacks for 58 yards in losses as they harassed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for much of the day.

Biggest takeaway: Give the Falcons some credit. It was cautioned after last week’s win over the Jaguars, that the Falcons needed to step up against better competition. They did … to some degree. The Falcons played with the Buccaneers for much of the game on the scoreboard, trailing only by three points at the intermission. They also had a prime opportunity to take a lead in the third quarter before a Russell Gage fumble killed a promising drive. Pass protection continues to be the major issue for the Falcons. When teams know they are going to pass, the hunt is on as evidenced by the five sacks and number of times Ryan had little time to throw.

They said it: “We had spurts, but the consistency wasn’t there. I think we were very consistent the first couple drives of the game, take away not scoring a touchdown on the goal line. We’ve got to find away to keep drives going and then finish drives.” – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan

Next up: The Falcons remain in NFC South play by traveling to the Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Falcons lost to the Panthers, 19-13, at home Oct 31.

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