Linebacker Deion Jones stepped in front of a Jameis Winston pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown in overtime to lift the Falcons to a come-from-behind 28-22 victory Sunday.
“It was an arrow route, I just read it, saw him take his hand off the ball and drove on it,” Jones said. “I wanted to get my hands on it before (the receiver) did and get the interception. Wanted to score for the defense.”
The Falcons’ defense hadn’t scored a touchdown all season.
» STEVE HUMMER: A Falcons final play to savor
“Reading the route, feeling the route also reading the quarterback’s eyes and his demeanor,” Jones said. “I just broke on the ball, got in front of it, secured it and we scored.”
The Falcons, who finished a disappointing season on a high note, needed five field goals from Younghoe Koo, one at the buzzer of regulation.
With the victory, the Falcons finish 7-9 for the second consecutive season and earned second place in the NFC South.
The Bucs dropped to 7-9, but the Falcons have the tiebreaker with a better in-division record.
“I was proud of the fight all the way to end,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “All three phases kept battling for it. That’s been our space, complimentary football.”
The Falcons squandered early opportunities to build a lead and had trouble blocking Tampa Bay’s stout defensive front, which led to a key touchdown by linebacker Devin White.
Behind some deep-ball passing by Winston, the Bucs rallied to build a 22-16 halftime lead.
The Falcons opened the scoring with some razzle-dazzle on their opening drive and built a 10-0 lead that they eventually squandered.
Tackle Ty Sambrailo reported as an extra tight end and instead of blocking, he ran a nice route and scored on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to stun the Bucs.
Sambrailo’s TD catch was the longest by an NFL lineman since 1970 and it was the longest offensive touchdown in the league history by a player weighing more than 300 pounds, according to Elias Sports.
“Ty has amazing hand-to-eye coordination,” Quinn said. “He is a very good athlete. There was no doubt about the catch.”
Quinn was more impressed by the run after the catch.
“To see him stride it out and go down the seam, that was a big piece of it,” Quinn said.
The Falcons put the play in practice last week. The defenders didn’t think it would work.
“It was a read-pass option,” Sambrailo said. “If they would have covered me, we would have run the ball.”
Ryan didn’t hesitate in lofting a spiral to Sambrailo, the backup swing tackle.
“It was surreal a little bit because it was my first time scoring,” Sambrailo said.
On Tampa Bay’s first play from scrimmage, Falcons defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner forced Bucs running back Ronald Jones to fumble. Jones recovered the fumble and the offense was back in business at Tampa Bay’s 29-yard line.
The promising drive stalled at Tampa Bay’ 9-yard line and Koo made a 27-yard field goal to put the Falcon up 10-0.
After a missed Tampa Bay field goal and an exchange of punts, the Falcons had another drive stopped when fullback Keith Smith was stuffed on fourth-and-1 at Tampa Bay’s 32.
The Bucs put together a 9-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, which included Winston connecting with Breshad Perriman for a 24-yard gain. Winston tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate to make it 10-7.
The Falcons drove to the Bucs’ 15 and stalled. Koo added a 33-yard field goal.
The Falcons didn’t cash in on a Ricardo Allen’s interception of Winston, which gave them the ball at the Tampa Bay 19.
After driving to the 9-yard line, Ryan had the ball knocked away — by Jason Pierre-Paul — as his arm appeared to be moving forward. The fumble was recovered by White and returned by the Bucs linebacker 91 yards for a touchdown, putting Tampa Bay up 14-13. The fumble was reviewed and upheld.
The Falcons answered with another field goal by Koo — a 45-yarder — to retake the lead 16-14.
With 58 seconds left before the half, Winston connected with Perriman for a 31-yard gain to jump start their drive. Winston was on the run to his right and heaved up a prayer that was answered with 19 seconds left as Perriman came down in the back of the end zone with the 24-yard touchdown reception. Winston ran in for the two-point conversion.
The third quarter was scoreless as Bucs kicker Matt Gay missed two field goals and the Falcons were forced to punt after their only possession stalled.
Gay missed a 44-yard field goal wide right. After stopping the Falcons, he missed a 34-yard field goal wide right.
Koo added a 43-yard field goal with 6:27 left in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons got a stop and got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 3:01 to play.
The Falcons drove to the Bucs’ 15 with 3 seconds left to play and Koo made a 33-yard at the buzzer to force overtime.
The Bucs won the toss and took the ball.
On the first play, Winston attempted to pass to out to his right to Brate, but Jones was lurking.
It was a dramatic end to a season that started with a 1-7 record. The Falcons regrouped and finished 6-2 over the second half of the season.
“In these hard times we all looked at ourselves and figured out what we could do more and a lot of guys did more,” Jones said. “No one shied away from the task. It just showed us how tough we are, how resilient we are.”
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