Miscommunication leads to Bucs’ go-ahead TD against Falcons

Credit: AJC

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris discusses the loss to the Bucs and the miscommunication on Antonio Brown’s game-winning 46-yard touchdown catch.

It doesn’t take much for someone to fall behind in coverage against Antonio Brown.

And that’s exactly what happened on a defensive play with 6:26 to go in the fourth quarter of the Falcons’ 31-27 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons were already without cornerback Darqueze Dennard due to a quadriceps injury heading into Sunday’s divisional contest. During the game, which the Falcons led by 17 points at two different moments, they lost Blidi Wreh-Wilson to an illness and Isaiah Oliver to cramping.

This forced the Falcons to go with undrafted rookie Tyler Hall and second-year corner Kendall Sheffield in the defensive backfield in the fourth quarter. Hall was lined up in the slot on Brown, the oft-troubled but tough-to-cover receiver who the Buccaneers signed midseason. Sheffield lined up wide in man coverage on receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin went in motion to the inside of Brown with Sheffield following. This gave quarterback Tom Brady the pre-snap indicator that the Falcons were in man coverage on this play.

However, after Godwin motioned inside, Hall peeked inside and slid to his left. From there, a miscommunication occurred that led to the Buccaneers’ go-ahead score. After the snap, Hall stuck with Brown in man coverage even after peeking at Godwin. At the same time, Sheffield backed up as it appeared like he was going to defend Brown. As Sheffield saw Hall trailing Brown, he bolted toward Godwin, who was otherwise left open over the middle of the field. From there, Brown used his speed to turn upfield and away from Hall. Brady then delivered a perfect ball to Brown for a 46-yard touchdown. This play gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game at 31-27.

“We were in man-to-man coverage,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “They got into a stack. We had a signal, bad communication. Tyler got beat on the play. Put up a bad matchup, got beat on the play. That’s on us.”

Cornerback A.J. Terrell was on the other side of the field guarding receiver Mike Evans.

“They just made a play,” Terrell said. “We had some subs come in and they just made a play.”

That touchdown was the exclamation point on a second half that saw the Falcons collapse defensively yet again. In the first half, the Falcons held the Buccaneers to only 60 total yards, which was the lowest amount allowed through two quarters of a game since a 31-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers during the 14th week of the 2010 season. In that meeting, the Falcons held the Panthers to only 33 yards at the break.

This time, the Falcons were unable to continue the same success, especially when it came to Brady throwing the ball. In the first half, Brady completed 10 of 16 throws for only 70 yards, with the Falcons totaling two sacks for a loss of 17 yards. The Falcons also held a 17-0 lead at the half.

Brady came alive in the second half, beginning on the first possession of the third quarter, which resulted in a 1-yard rushing touchdown from running back Leonard Fournette. In the second half, Brady went for 320 yards and two touchdowns, giving him a total of 390 passing yards while completing 68.9% of his throws.

“Playing Tampa, they like to live off making those big plays,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We limited it in the first half, but they came to life in the second. We could not get off the field in crunch times. ... Just some things did not go our way. At the end of the day we got to be able to respond and make the necessary adjustments. That is what they did to have a better second half.

“We got to come out hot and cannot give up touchdowns on the first opening drive of the half. It is a big momentum thing. Offense, defense, and special teams, we all got to work together to be better.”

Hall began the year on the Falcons’ practice squad and has appeared in eight games this season. Primarily seeing time on special teams, Hall has only appeared in one other game on defense, which came against the Panthers in Week 5. He played one defensive snap in that game and recorded an assisted tackle.

The appearance he had in this game will certainly prove to be a learning experience for the young cornerback.

“It was just unfortunate. I just looked up and Tom had thrown a deep ball,” safety Sharrod Neasman said. “That’s all I saw. I didn’t see anything else. I looked back and it was a deep ball.”