By Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida
Tampa Bay scored on their opening drive, which started out with a handoff to running back Rachaad White followed by Tom Brady’s 17-yard pass to Chris Godwin. On the next play, Godwin picked up 8 yards with his 100th reception for the Buccaneers this season.
Switching back to the run game, White rushed for 3 yards, before Deven Thompkins carried the ball upfield for another 17. Brady’s pass to Godwin on first down was incomplete, but White moved them the team into the red zone with his 6-yard rush.
On 3rd and 4, Brady threw to rookie tight end Cade Otton, who dove for the low pass and the Buccaneers found another first down at the 12-yard line. Following White’s 4-yard rush, Brady found veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Ryan Succop’s extra point was good and the Buccaneers were on the board 7-0.
On the other side of the ball, Tampa Bay’s defense forced Atlanta to go three and out on their first drive. Linebacker Joe Tryon was instrumental in the series as he stopped rookie running back Tyler Allgeier for a loss of 2 yards on the first play, and pressured quarterback Desmond Ridder to throw an incomplete pass over the middle. However, it was linebacker Akiem Hicks, on 3rd and 12, who broke free on the outside and sacked Ridder for a loss of 8 yards.
Head coach Todd Bowles explained, “We talked about starting fast on both sides of the football getting out early and then getting stops and getting the ball back, so we accomplished that on the first drive on both sides of the ball.”
Tampa Bay fell short on their next series with a short rush from Leonard Fournette, and Brady’s two incomplete passes to Russell Gage. When the Falcons got the ball back, Ridder attempted a deep pass downfield to Drake London The ball was under thrown allowing cornerback Jamel Dean time to close the gap and prevent the catch. Two plays later, on 3rd and 5, Ridder scrambled out of the pocket connecting with London on a 36-yard pass over the middle.
However, it was Allgeier, who reached 135 rushing yards by the end of the game, that charged past the Buccaneers’s defense into the red zone. They were unable to stop the Falcons’ scoring drive, as Ridder scrambled out of the pocket allowing tight end Mycole Pruitt time to get open on the goal line. Ridder’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Pruitt tied the game 7-7.
Then there was the matter of the Buccaneers’ costly turnover towards the end of the first quarter. On 2nd and 8, Brady threw with a short pass to Godwin who was tackled by Richie Grant. Despite Godwin holding the ball tight and in two hands, Grant made perfect contact and punched the ball out, recovering it at the 34-yard line for the Falcons. Atlanta capitalized with kicker Younghoe Koo’s 49-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead.
The Buccaneers’s next possession carried the game into the second quarter. With a short pass to Godwin and only a 3-yard rush for Giovani Bernard, Brady was already facing 3rd and 1. He found Godwin for the first down, but utilizing only quick, short plays meant they had to convert several 3rd and short situations.
From the Atlanta 23-yard line, on 3rd and 10, Brady’s short 9-yard pass to Godwin was just shy of the marker. On 4th and 1, Bernard rushed from the left side for 8 yards. However, a holding penalty on Luke Goedeke cost Tampa Bay the conversion. They settled for Succop’s 41-yard field goal to tie the game 10-10.
Tampa Bay took back the lead towards the end of the half following an Atlanta turnover. On 2nd and 7, Ridder fumbled the ball as it fell from his hand on the backswing, and was recovered by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White at the 39-yard line.
The Buccaneers pulled Tom Brady to avoid injury heading into the playoffs. They sent in backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert to take the helm. Gabbert’s first snap was a deep pass to Thompkins in the end zone that was incomplete. He settled in and found Thompkins along the side line for a first down, and then handed it off to Bernard for a short rush. At the two-minute warning, Gabbert threw a short pass to former Atlanta receiver Russell Gage, who dragged Falcons on his back as he pushed through for a 7-yard play. On 3rd and goal, Gabbert threw a back shoulder fade to Gage in the end zone for the touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
Atlanta received the ball to start the half and scored a 24-yard field foal on the opening drive to narrow Tampa’s lead 17-13. However, after Gabbert and the Buccaneers went three and out, it was Atlanta’s next possession that shifted the game momentum.
A combination of passes over the middle to London and Allgeier’s 7-yard rush catapulted the Falcons into Buccaneers’ territory. Tampa Bay fought back against the run game holding Atlanta to the 43-yard line. However, on 4th and 3 with no huddle, Ridder completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Anthony Firkser. Following the conversion, the Falcons continued downfield, and Ridder ultimately found receiver Olamide Zaccheaus wide open in the end zone. The 3-yard touchdown pass gave the Falcons a 20-17 lead and they never looked back.
As the game transitioned into the fourth quarter, Gabbert and the Buccaneers continued to come up empty handed. With eight minutes left in the game, the Buccaneers put in quarterback Kyle Trask for his first NFL start. He gave the handoff to Vaughn on the first play, but two incomplete passes to Thompkins brought up fourth down and forced the team to punt.
Trask took the field a second time completing a short pass over the middle to Scotty Miller and another to Breshad Perriman for the first down. However, the series came to an end just as quickly as it started when, on 4th and 4, Trask was unable to connect with Thompkins on a deep pass.
Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown, and Koo later made a 51-yard field goal to lock in the Falcon’s win 30-17.
Buccaneers enter the playoffs with an 8-9 record, but with their NFC South title they will host the number 5 seed Dallas Cowboys in Tampa Bay next week.
Brady explained, “Everyone works hard to get to this point and now it’s there are no more second chances. We’ve been battle tested and had some tough games, some we’ve come back from, some we haven’t . . . close won’t be good enough going forward [in playoffs] for anybody.”
“We would have loved to be on the winning side of our record, but in this game, at least we have a next game.” Russell Gage added, “I’ve never been in the playoffs, so I’m excited . . . what’s not to be excited about when you talk about the playoffs.”
The video used in this story was provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube channel.