Tampa Bay hung on and pulled away late to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 44-27. The Buccaneers propelled by an impressive offensive performance secured the 1st wild card spot and will play the winner of the NFC East on the road next weekend. Unlike their last game against Atlanta, Tampa Bay put on a show in the 1st half. Despite constantly battling back, Atlanta could not slow down Tom Brady and his stable of receivers. The Bucs finish the season on a 4-game winning streak and are on to the Playoffs!
Impressive 1st half.
Tampa Bay’s last game against Atlanta was nearly a disaster. The Bucs were shut-out in the first half and were forced to make a huge comeback in the second half. This time around, there was no need for such late game heroics. Tampa Bay scored early and often. Brady and offense would march down on their opening drive and would be capped off by Chris Godwin’s 1st of 2 touchdown receptions on the day. On the net drive, Mike Evans would the 1,000 yard mark, becoming the first receiver in league history to start their career with 7 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Antonio Brown had his best game as a Buccaneer. Totaling 11 receptions for 138 yards and 2 TDs, he was a huge factor in the win. The Bucs would put up 23 points in the first half and would lead by 13 heading into the locker. The Bucs did not punt a single time today. A far cry from the dismal performance the previous time out against the Falcons.
Long ball woes seem a distant memory.
It has been well known that for most of the season Brady and the Bucs have struggled with the throwing the ball deep. Whether it was Brady’s familiarity with the offense or Bryan Leftwich’s forceful play-calling, the issue seems to have resolved itself. 2 of Brady’s 4 touchdown passes were from 20-plus yards including a 29-yard TD to Godwin on the opening drive and another 25-yarder to Brown in the second quarter. Brady would do it again in a critical situation for one of the biggest plays of the game. On 3rd and 12 from their own 46 and only ahead by 3, Brady connected with Godwin for a 47-yard reception to the Atlanta 7 yard-line. This would set Godwin up to catch his second TD which would turn out to be the dagger blow. Unlike previous games, the deep pass played a big part in the Bucs’ win.
Tampa Bay defense does just enough.
The Buccaneers missed some key players on defense today. Devin White and Shaquil Barrett were placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list on New Years day. White leads the team with 97 tackles, while Barrett is second on the team in sacks with 8. In addition to not having their top defensive players, Atlanta was a desperate team. Although eliminated from playoff contention, the Falcons players and coaches have been battling to keep their jobs after the firing of Head Coach Dan Quinn.
As expected, Atlanta battled and kept the game close until the end. Matt Ryan went 29/44, 265 yards and 2 TDs. Russel Gage led the receiving corps with 91 yards. Despite giving up a fair amount the Defense held Atlanta to 2 FGs in goal-to-go situations, including a critical one in the 3rd quarter to avoid losing the lead. Sean Murphy-Bunting also scooped up a loose ball in the 4th to squash any hope of a miracle comeback.
Came at a cost.
Today’s game might’ve been perfect minus critical event. The injury to Mike Evans. The play after hitting his incredible milestone, Evans slipped in the endzone and appeared to have tweaked something in his knee. Coach Bruce Arians was asked about Evans and he said “Knock on wood, we don’t think there is any serious damage” which is a good sign considering there was no contact on the play. However, if Mike Evans is not able to go next it would be a huge loss to Tampa Bay. Not only would Evans miss his first opportunity to play in the postseason, Arians said “Its gonna take two guys to replace him for sure”.
Up next, for the first time in 13 years the Buccaneers will play in a playoff game. In securing the 1st wildcard spot, Tampa Bay will travel to face the winner of the NFC East which will be determined by the the end of the night. It will be Washington if they defeat the Eagles tonight or the New York Giants should Washington fall. Both teams are a far-cry from what they were at the beginning of the season and Tampa Bay will have to put forth a solid effort if they hope to walk away with a win. However, if Tampa plays Saturday, there is a chance that White and Barrett would have to be held out due to Covid-19. This would be a big blow to the Bucs’ already spotty defense.
Despite this, the Bucs should be favorites in next week’s game regardless of their opponent. They are more talented than both New York and Washington. However, they will have to continue to build upon their fast starts and play well enough defensively. Hopefully Evans will be good to go and the Bucs can secure their 1st playoff win since 2002.
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