The Atlanta Falcons mounted an impressive comeback before falling short of the win in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons down 20-3 in the third quarter, where able to tie the game and force it into overtime before the Bucs were able to kick a go-ahead field goal. The Falcons failed to respond and lost the game. It marks the Falcons first home loss of 2015 and their record falls to 6-2, with both losses coming to NFC South divisional rivals.
Matt Ryan completed 37 of 45 passes for 397 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Devonta Freeman led the team on the ground, rushing for 88 yards on 21 carries. He added six catches for 43 yards in the passing game. Julio Jones led receivers with 12 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. Jacob Tamme caught 10 passes for 103 yards and another touchdown.
Matt Bryant connected on both of his field-goal tries of 21 and 24 yards. Matt Bosher did not attempt a single punt. Eric Weems returned a pair of kickoffs for 58 yards and a pair of punts for 23 yards.
The Falcons totaled 496 yards of offense, converting half of their 12 third-down attempts. The team also converted two of three fourth-down attempts, but turned the ball over four times. The Bucs managed to generate 20 points off those turnovers. The Falcons converted two of five red-zone trips with a pair of turnovers occurring inside the 20-yard line.
Defensively, the Falcons kept the Bucs offense in check for most of the game with the exception of the drives that immediately followed turnovers. The Bucs offense generated 290 total yards and converted six of 13 third-down attempts.
Ricardo Allen and Kroy Biermann shared the team lead with six tackles. Allen also added a sack. Phillip Adams (three tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defended), Robert Alford (four tackles, one tackle for loss), Adrian Clayborn (one tackle, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit), Justin Durant (four tackles), Ra’Shede Hageman (four tackles), Kemal Ishmael (three tackles), Grady Jarrett (three tackles, one tackle for loss), O’Brien Schofield (one tackle, one sack, three quarterback hits), Paul Soliai (three tackles, one quarterback hit), Robenson Therezie (three tackles), Desmond Trufant (two tackles) and Paul Worrilow (five tackles, one quarterback hit) had notable games.
The Falcons started the game by going to Jones, who caught a nine-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. Tamme got the first third-down conversion of the day, nabbing a seven-yard pass on 3rd-and-6. Ryan then dialed up Jones once more on a slant, who broke loose for a 17-yard gain to get the ball into Buccaneers territory. After a two-yard run by Freeman, the Falcons dialed up a play-action pass to Jones on a deep out, who made the grab for a 21-yard gain. Two plays later, Freeman got his second carry but it again went for just two yards to set up a 3rd-and-2 at the Buccaneers 15-yard line. The Falcons tried Freeman once more, but he was stuffed, prompting the team to go for it on fourth down. The Falcons tried a quarterback sneak and Ryan converted and the team was also gifted six additional yards on a personnel foul penalty on Bucs safety Chris Conte. On 1st-and-goal from the six-yard line, Freeman’s run went nowhere. On second down, Ryan’s pass to Jones in the back of the end zone was picked off by linebacker Kwon Alexander, who sprinted 93 yards before being chased down by a hustling Jones. But an offsides penalty on defensive end Jacquies Smith wiped out the turnover and the Falcons still retained possession with a 2nd-and-goal at the three-yard line. Freeman was once again stuffed to set up a third down. Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver and threw it out the back of the end zone, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 21-yard field goal from kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant nailed the kick and the Falcons had a 3-0 lead after a 14-play drive that bled seven minutes off the clock.
The Bucs offensive game plan centered on running the ball to running back Doug Martin, who got the first two carries for a combined six yards to set up a 3rd-and-4. Winston was chased out of the pocket and hit by Clayborn, but shook off the sack before throwing it away. However an offsides penalty on Vic Beasley gave the Bucs a new set of downs. On the next play, Martin found a big gap of the right side for an 18-yard gain to get the ball to midfield. Martin carried the ball two more times for a combined eight yards to set up a 3rd-and-2. This time the Falcons got off the field, thanks to Clayborn bursting up the middle to stuff Martin in the backfield for a five-yard loss, forcing a Buccaneers punt.
Freeman found space on the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing Falcons drive, getting to the edge for a six-yard gain. But the play was wiped out by a holding call on Jones, backing the Falcons up to their own six-yard line. The receiver tried to redeem himself on the next play, nabbing a slant and breaking loose for a 35-yard gain before he was stripped from behind by Alexander, who returned the ball 20 yards to give the Bucs possession at the Falcons 21-yard line.
Martin tried to bounce his first run outside, but was chased down by Worrilow for a one-yard stop. Winston then overthrew wideout Mike Evans down the seam on second down, followed by another overthrew to receiver Adam Humphries, forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Kicker Connor Barth hit the 38-yard kick to tie the game 3-3 with 2:03 left on the first-quarter clock.
The Falcons tried a play-action pass to Jones on their ensuing series, hitting the receiver for a 17-yard gain over the middle to start the drive. Freeman gained six yards before a toss on second down was wrapped up for a four-yard loss. On 3rd-and-8, Ryan hit Justin Hardy on a 12-yard comeback to convert on the final play of the first quarter to move the ball into Buccaneers territory. A pitch to Tevin Coleman gained seven yards to start the third quarter. The Falcons got another first down two plays later when defensive tackle Henry Melton jumped offsides on 3rd-and-1. The Falcons dialed up a five-yard screen to Jones before feeding Freeman three consecutive times for a combined 10 yards. That set up another third down where the Falcons hit Tamme for a 14-yard gain to get the ball to the Bucs six-yard line. Freeman got minimal gain of two yards on the next play to set up a 2nd-and-goal from the four. A bad snap by center Mike Person aborted the next play and Jacquies Smith was able to scoop up the loose ball, allowing the Bucs to take over at their 22-yard line with 9:04 left in the second quarter.
Winston started to get more dialed in, completing his first three passes for a combined 54 yards, including hitting tight end Cameron Brate for a 28-yard gain to flip the field and put the ball at the Falcons 23-yard line. After a pair of runs by running back Charles Sims gained a combined 11 yards to get the Bucs closer, Jarrett was able to stuff Martin in the backfield for a two-yard loss. On second down, Winston overthrew Evans in the back of the end zone. On 3rd-and-12 at the Falcons 14-yard line, Winston was able to hit tight end Brandon Myers but he was tackled by Durant after a nine-yard gain to force the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Barth hit the 23-yard kick to give the Bucs a 6-3 lead with 3:32 left in the game.
Freeman started the next drive by finding a big gap up the middle for a 20-yard gain. Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver on the next play, but was able to throw it away to avoid a sack from Buccaneers defensive end George Johnson, who had managed to wrap him up around the legs. Melton was flagged for an offsides penalty, gifting the Falcons five yards however on that play. Freeman spun out of a tackle and fought for a first down on a six-yard gain on the next play before he was subsequently hit on a swing pass by Ryan for a nine-yard gain. However an offensive pass interference call against tight end Levine Toilolo wiped out the gain, bringing on the two-minute warning. Ryan hit Coleman on his next two passes before trying a throw over the middle to Tamme, but it was broken up by cornerback Alterraun Verner. That brought on a 3rd-and-5 from the Buccaneers 44-yard line, during which Ryan threw into triple coverage to Tamme over the middle and the play was picked off by Alexander, who returned it 15 yards to midfield.
The Bucs took over with 1:23 left in the first half. Winston converted a 2nd-and-3 with a six-yard pass to Myers, which was followed by overthrowing Humphries underneath. Winston then avoided initial pressure, but was brought down by Schofield for a sack and a loss of four yards. Evans beat Trufant in traffic on the next play for a 21-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 to get the ball into the red zone. Brate then got open on a slant and Winston hit him for a 20-yard score, allowing the Bucs to push their lead to 13-3 with 30 second left in the half after a quick six-play, 50-yard scoring drive in less than a minute.
The Falcons tried a screen pass to Jones to close out the first half, content to go into halftime down 13-3.
The Bucs received the opening kick of the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Martin’s run was strung out by Brooks Reed before being tackled by Alford after a one-yard gain. Winston’s pass to wide receiver Donteea Dye was tipped for an incompletion on second down. Winston was able to escape the pocket on third down, but his pass was nearly picked off by Therezie with Schofield providing the hit on the quarterback. The Bucs punted after a three-and-out.
Freeman’s first run went nowhere after he was tripped up on the edge for no gain. Ryan then hit Toilolo over the middle for a seven-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-3. The Falcons converted on swing pass to Freeman for a six-yard gain. Freeman then danced his way in traffic for a seven-yard run. Two plays later on 3rd-and-1, Ryan was able to avoid pressure from Jacquies Smith on a play-action rollout and find an open Tamme on a throwback over the middle for eight yards to convert. At the Buccaneers 20-yard line, Ryan botched a handoff which was recovered by Melton and the Bucs defense was able to get another red-zone stop thanks to a Falcons turnover.
The Bucs took full advantage of the opportunity, with Martin bouncing off tackles for a nine-yard gain to start the ensuing series. He found a huge cutback lane up the middle for a 19-yard gain on the next play, but it was called back due to a holding penalty against right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Two plays later, the Bucs were able to convert on 3rd-and-6 thanks to a Trufant getting flagged for pass interference while he and Evans were fighting for position downfield on a back-shoulder throw. Winston took a deep shot to Evans which Allen nearly picked off but couldn’t haul in the pass along the sideline. Trufant was flagged once again for another pass interference and was injured on the play and would not return to the game. That flag resulted in a 39-yard gain for the Bucs, who now had the ball at the Falcons 25-yard line. Two plays later, Winston found space on a scramble up the middle for 21 yards, shaking Therezie in the process. That gave the Bucs a 1st-and-goal from the two-yard line but they were pushed back on the next play thanks to Alford wrapping up Martin for a two-yard loss on the edge. Alford stepped up once again, jamming Evans effectively on the next play on an overthrown fade in the end zone. On 3rd-and-goal from the four-yard line the Bucs tried to run a pitch play, but Winston opted to keep it and was able to find space up the middle for a four-yard touchdown, sneaking past Durant for the score. That gave the Bucs a 20-3 lead after a seven-play, 76-yard drive.
The Falcons took over with 6:06 left in the third quarter. Ryan proceeded to be very efficient with the short passing, spreading the ball around to Tamme, Eric Weems, Jones and Patrick DiMarco by completing his first five passes for a combined 44 yards to get the ball into Bucs territory. Freeman then got into the action by finding a gap on the left side to gain 14 yards. That was followed up by a three-yard gain before Ryan hit Hardy twice for a combined 16 yards. The latter seven-yard reception was wiped out by a 15-yard chop block penalty on Freeman however. That pushed the Falcons back to 1st-and-goal from the Bucs 25-yard line, where Ryan hit Tamme for an 18-yard gain. Then Tamme made a nice grab in traffic on the very next play to get the seven-yard score and give the Falcons their first touchdown of the game with 19 seconds left in the third quarter. The Falcons were now down 20-10 after a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
On the ensuing Bucs series, Winston was able to roll out of the pocket and hit Evans on a nine-yard completion, but the ball popped out of the receivers’ hands when he was tackled to the ground by Ishmael. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn challenged the call and it was reversed since Evans didn’t secure it all the way to the ground. After a false start by left guard Logan Mankins, the Bucs were able to convert on 2nd-and-15 on the final play of the third quarter thanks to Myers making a nice back-shoulder catch. To start the fourth quarter, Jarrett stuffed Martin for a one-yard gain. Two plays later, the Falcons gifted the Bucs with another first down thanks to an offsides penalty on Clayborn even after Evans dropped a wide-open crossing route. The Falcons defense was able to string out the run to Sims, dropping him for a two-yard loss. Pressure by Schofield forced Winston to throw it away on the next play on an aborted screen pass, which was followed by Durant wrapping up Humphries after a three-yard gain on 3rd-and-12 to force a Buccaneers punt.
The Falcons took over with 12:07 left in the game at their 17-yard line. Ryan hit Freeman on a pair of four-yard completions to start the series, followed by Jones converting on third down with a nine-yard slant. A holding call on right guard Chris Chester wiped out a nine-yard completion to Roddy White, pushing the Falcons back to a 1st-and-20 at their 24-yard line. Freeman gained 11 yards on a screen pass to get most of that yardage back on the next play. Two plays later, Ward gained eight yards on 3rd-and-9 to set up a 4th-and-1. Freeman was able to dive up the middle for a two-yard gain to get the new set of downs. The Falcons moved into Bucs territory on the next play after White nabbed a slant for a 19-yard gain. Two plays later, Freeman shook a couple of defenders for a 16-yard gain up the middle to get the ball to the Bucs 12-yard line. Freeman got the ball on the next two plays, getting upended after a five-yard gain on the latter play to set up a 3rd-and-1 from the three-yard line. Freeman’s next carry was strung out by the Bucs defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who burst up the middle to help drop the Falcons runner for a three-yard loss. Person drew a holding call on the play, forcing the Falcons to settle for the three points. Bryant nailed a 24-yard field goal to cut the Bucs lead to 20-13 with 4:56 left in the game after a 14-play drive that bled over seven minutes of time off the clock.
Martin fought for a five-yard gain to start the next Bucs series before being dropped for a one-yard loss by Vic Beasley and Worrilow after Paul Soliai knifed through the line to disrupt the play in the backfield. Pressure forced Winston up in the pocket on the next play and despite being in the grasp of Worrilow, he was able to deliver on a check down to Martin to gain seven yards, converting a 3rd-and-6. Martin then found more room up the middle for a pair of runs of six and three yards, respectively, bringing about a 3rd-and-1 after the Falcons used their remaining timeouts. The Falcons run defense clamped down, with Ra’Shede Hageman and others clogging the middle to stop Martin on his dive up the middle for no gain. That brought about the two-minute warning and the Bucs opted to go for it on 4th-and-inches from their 40 to try and win the game. Winston looked initially to throw the ball, but then decided to tuck it and run, but was tripped up by Allen for no gain just a few inches shy of the sticks. The Falcons took over with 1:52 left in the ball game at the 40-yard line.
Tamme made a big catch on the second play of the ensuing Falcons series, bouncing off a pair of hits from Bucs defenders after a 19-yard gain to get the ball to the Buccaneers 16-yard line. Ryan’s next pass to Freeman was low an incomplete. But then Ryan was able to escape pressure and hit Freeman for a diving grab over the middle for 13 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal from the three. A false start penalty against left guard Andy Levitre backed up the Falcons five yards before Ryan was able to connect with Jones in the back of the end zone for the eight-yard score. Ryan’s pump fake to an underneath receiver drew up Conte from the secondary and Jones slipped behind the corner to settle into the vacated zone for an easy score, tying the game at 20-20 with just 17 seconds left in the game. The Bucs decided to take a knee and play for overtime.
The Bucs won the toss to start the extra period. Tight end Luke Stocker broke open on a rub route, but dropped the wide-open pass. Winston then overthrew Brate over the middle and Therezie dropped what could have been an easy interception, but the play was negated by offsetting penalties on the two teams. Schofield was flagged for roughing the passer while Cherilus was flagged for holding. A rollout to Sims gained seven yards to set up a 3rd-and-3. Winston hit Sims once more, who shed Adams to convert on a four-yard gain in the flat. Winston targeted Adams on the next play, throwing deep to Evans along the sideline. Evans had gotten behind Adams, but thanks to an underthrown pass by Winston, the Falcons corner was able to recover and break up the pass. Nate Stupar then knocked away a quick slant to Evans on the next play, bringing up a 3rd-and-10. But Evans beat Adams again on a comeback to gain 14 yards and give Tampa Bay a new set of downs. Sims and Martin were handed the ball on the next four plays, combining for 20 yards to get the ball to the Falcons 35-yard line on 3rd-and-5. The Bucs converted once more as Humphries was able to settle down underneath to convert on a six-yard gain. The Bucs tried another deep shot to Evans, who beat Adams on the sideline but this time Adams was flagged for the pass interference when trying to break up Winston’s underthrown pass. That gifted the Bucs 16 yards, setting them up for 1st-and-10 at the Falcons 13-yard line. After a pair of runs by Martin, the Bucs had another third down but Winston missed on a throw to Humphries that skipped off the turf in the end zone. The Bucs settled for a field goal and Barth hit from 31 yards to give the Bucs a 23-20 lead with 7:52 left in the game.
Ryan hit Jones on a quick out to start the drive for a 19-yard gain, thanks to the receiver breaking a tackle after the catch. Two plays later, Ryan was sacked by unblocked defensive end Howard Jones, who managed to strip the ball before Ryan could throw it away. After an official review, the play was confirmed to be a fumble rather than an incomplete forward pass, setting up the Falcons for a 3rd-and-7. Ryan’s next pass went to Hardy over the middle on a crossing route, but he couldn’t make the diving grab with Verner draped over him. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was able to get to Ryan on fourth down, wrapping up his legs and forcing an errant throw down the field, ending the game.
The Falcons will look to bounce back next week when they travel to take on the 2-6 San Francisco 49ers. Since departing their former NFC West rival in 2002, the Falcons sport a 4-2 record against the 49ers but have lost their last two match ups against them. The last one came in San Francisco in a heart-breaking 34-24 loss in 2013. Prior to that, the Falcons had won twice in road games against the 49ers, dating back to 2004. Prior to that, the Falcons had lost 10 straight road games against the 49ers with their previous victory coming in 1991.