Falcons Lose 2016 Opener to Bucs 31-24

Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsFalcons head coach Dan Quinn looks on after a disheartening home-opening loss, the team's first since 2007.

The Atlanta Falcons lost their first regular season home opener since 2007 with a 31-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The held the lead for a large portion of the first half, but then the Bucs were able to put up three consecutive scores to push their lead to 31-13. The Falcons made a valiant comeback with an opportunity to lead a 92-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes to tie the game but came up short, allowing the Bucs to hold onto the win.

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Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks

Quarterback Matt Ryan performed ably, completing 27 of 39 passes for 334 yards with two touchdowns. He got little support from the ground game as the Falcons were bottled up for 52 yards on 22 carries. Tevin Coleman led the team with 22 yards on eight carries, while starting running back Devonta Freeman was limited to 20 yards on 11 carries.

In the air tight end Jacob Tamme led the team with six catches for 51 yards. Coleman had more success in the air with a team-leading 95 yards on five receptions. Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones caught Ryan’s pair of touchdown tosses. Sanu finished the game with five catches for 80 yards, including a 59-yard play on his first catch as a Falcon. Jones was quiet for the most part, dealing with injury issues but did manage to finish with four catches for 66 yards, including a 25-yard score.

Kicker Matt Bryant made a trio of field goals from 34, 34 and 29 yards. Matt Bosher had five punts for an average of 38.6 yards with four placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems served as the team’s returner on both kickoffs and punts, finishing the game with two punt returns for 22 yards and three kickoff returns for 85 yards.

The Falcons offense struggled in the red zone, converting just one of four trips there into touchdowns. They also struggled to convert on third downs, with just three successful conversions in 13 tries (23 percent). They finished the game with 374 total yards, most of coming via the air as previously mentioned. The team was successful able to avoid any turnovers but also dealt with a number of penalties early, being flagged seven times for a loss of 74 yards.

Defensively the Bucs finished the game with 371 total yards but were able to find a bit more success on the ground with 90 rushing yards. They were slightly better in the red zone (one for two) and on third downs (three for 10) but also weren’t overly efficient. They turned the ball over once on an interception, which the Falcons were able to turn into seven points.

Safeties Ricardo Allen and Kemal Ishmael tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Cornerback Robert Alford (five tackles, two pass breakups); linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (four tackles, one tackle for loss); defensive end Adrian Clayborn (two tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits); linebacker Deion Jones (six tackles, one quarterback hit); cornerback Desmond Trufant (five tackles, one interception) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (four tackles) had notable performances.

The Falcons received the opening kick to start the game and begin their opening possession from the 19-yard line after a 26-yard kickoff return by Weems. Their first two play calls were runs to Freeman, who was bottled up for just one combined yard. That set up a 3rd-and-9. Ryan hit fullback Patrick DiMarco on a check down, who fought hard for a first down but was dragged down a yard shy of the sticks, forcing a Falcons punt. The Falcons began the game with a three-and-out.

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Bucs QB Jameis Winston attempts a pass to Adam Humphries

The Bucs tried to establish the run with running back Doug Martin on their first play from scrimmage, but Clayborn got the stuff after a two-yard gain. Quarterback Jameis Winston completed his first pass, a four-yard throw to wide receiver Adam Humphries, on second down to set up a 3rd-and-4. Rookie linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was step-for-step with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins down the sideline, breaking up the throw but he was flagged for a 25-yard defensive pass interference and the Bucs had a new set of downs at the Falcons 31-yard line. Martin bounced off tacklers to gain 12 yards on his next carry but Campbell made up for the previous penalty with a stop of Martin in the backfield on the next play for a loss of six yards. Winston located an open Humphries on his next throw, who had gotten behind Falcons nickel cornerback Brian Poole but the pressure provided by Deion Jones led to an overthrow. Then on 3rd-and-16, Winston missed a wide-open Mike Evans in the back of the end zone, forcing the Bucs to settle for a 43-yard field goal from rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo made the kick and the Bucs had an early 3-0 lead with 9:52 left in the first quarter after a seven-play, 37-yard scoring drive.

On first down of the ensuing series, the Bucs bit on a play-action fake and Sanu was wide open along the sideline. Ryan hit him and he sprinted for a 59-yard gain to put the Falcons in the red zone for the first time on Sunday. Two plays later a swing pass to Justin Hardy got no yardage and the Falcons had another third down on their hands, this time needing six yards to convert at the Bucs 12-yard line. Defensive end Robert Ayers beat left tackle Jake Matthews on a speed rush and brought down Ryan from behind for a sack, forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Bryant made the 34-yard kick and the Falcons had tied the game after a five-play scoring drive.

On second down of the ensuing Bucs series, Alford was able to break up a throw to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, bringing about a quick 3rd-and-10. Clayborn created pressure to flush Winston out of the pocket and force a check down to Martin, who was tackled by Derrick Shelby and Deion Jones three yards shy of the sticks. The Bucs punted for the first time in the game.

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Desmond Trufant celebrates an interception

Ryan’s first-down pass to Sanu was dropped. Coleman then ran up the middle for three yards to make a more manageable third down. Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver and was forced to scramble, gaining just three yards before being brought down by middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. The Falcons had their second three-and-out of the game and Bosher was forced to punt again.

The Bucs handed it off to Charles Sims to start their next series, gaining a combined 12 yards on a pair of runs up the middle. However on the second seven-yard run, a holding call against right guard Ali Marpet pushed the Bucs back seven yards. That was followed by a delay of game and the Bucs were facing a 2nd-and-15 at their own four-yard line. Winston miscommunicated with Jackson and overthrew him along the sideline and the ball went into the hands of Desmond Trufant, who returned it nine yards to start the Falcons at the Bucs 13-yard line to start their next series.

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Mohamed Sanu makes an excellent leaping grab for the Falcons first touchdown

A false start by Jacob Tamme pushed the Falcons back five yards to start the drive. A shovel pass to Freeman up the middle gained 11 yards to put the ball down at the seven-yard line. Two plays later on 3rd-and-1, Ryan faked a handoff to Freeman and then threw to Tamme who was dropped at the one-yard line after a three-yard conversion. A false start against rookie tight end Austin Hooper pushed the Falcons back four yards. But on the next play, Ryan threw high to Sanu on a slant, who made a nice leaping grab for a touchdown. The Falcons took a 10-3 lead with 11 seconds left in the first quarter after a four-play, 13-yard scoring drive.

With the second quarter beginning near the outset of the next Bucs drive, the Bucs quickly found themselves in a favorable 3rd-and-2 situation. Pressure flushed Winston out of the pocket and Jones made an excellent open-field stop to keep Winston from converting but an offsides penalty against Clayborn gave the Bucs a new set of downs at their 38-yard line. Winston connected with Martin on his next two passes, gaining 21 yards to put the ball into Falcon territory. Then Martin converted a 2nd-and-3 on a seven-yard run up the middle. Two plays later, Humphries found room on a screen pass to get 26 yards and get the ball down to the Falcons six-yard line. Two plays later the Bucs were in the end zone with Winston finding an open tight end Brandon Myers in the end zone off a rollout for a four-yard score. The Bucs tied the game 10-10 with 10:25 left in the second quarter.

The Falcons running game continued to struggle with Coleman taking the first carry for no gain to start their next series. Ryan connected with Julio Jones for the first time in the game on the next play, gaining the Falcons 14 yards. The Falcons dialed up a screen to Coleman on the next play, who gained 16 yards and put the ball into Bucs territory. Freeman was then stuffed for a three-yard loss on the next run play before Coleman got much of that back with a four-yard gain. On the ensuing 3rd-and-9, former Falcons and current Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes was in Hardy’s hip pocket to help break up Ryan’s throw and force another Falcons punt.

On second down of the ensuing series, Weatherspoon made a good open-field tackle on Martin to limit him to four yards to set up a 3rd-and-3. Ishmael made a nice stop on a throw to Martin in the flat. Ex-Falcons center Joe Hawley was flagged for unnecessary roughness for trying to clear the pile after the play and the Bucs were forced to punt after a three-and-out.

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Tevin Coleman showcased his talents in the passing game

The Falcons tried to dial up a deep shot to Jones on first down off play-action, but Ryan underthrew the deep pass. Two plays later, Ryan threw behind Coleman in the flat, who made an excellent adjustment to snag the ball behind him and then sprinted to get a 47-yard gain to put the ball at the Bucs 10-yard line. A draw play to Freeman on the next down was stopped after a three-yard gain. The Falcons then tried another shovel pass on a delay, but Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was able to knife into the backfield to get a five-yard tackle for loss. A false start by Matthews pushed the Falcons back another five yards just as the two-minute warning hit. With a 3rd-and-goal from the Bucs 17-yard line, the Falcons went conservative with another draw play to Coleman for a gain of one yard. Bryant hit a 34-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the first half, pushing Atlanta’s lead to 13-10 after a seven-play, 45-yard scoring drive.

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Charles Sims avoids several defenders for a 23-yard score

Defensive end Dwight Freeney got pressure on first down, hitting Winston as he threw to force an overthrow to Humphries. But then Winston connected on his next two passes to tight end Cameron Brate for six and 17 yards, respectively. Brate then took a third consecutive pass for seven yards and the Bucs had moved the ball into Falcons territory with 1:07 left on the first-half clock. Winston tried a check down to Sims and Ishmael was there to make the stop after a four-yard gain, forcing the Bucs to use a timeout with 59 seconds left in the half. Winston tried to connect with Jackson a deep out, but he couldn’t reel in the diving grab and clock was stopped again with 52 seconds left. The Falcons dialed up Ishmael on a safety blitz, who got pressure and forced Winston to miss Jackson on another throw. But then on 3rd-and-10, Winston connected with Jackson for an 11-yard gain. The Bucs rushed to the line quickly in no huddle and Winston connected with Jackson again for seven yards. The Falcons called a timeout with 25 seconds left. On the very next play, Sims broke several tackles on a check down and ran into the end zone for a 23-yard score. The Bucs retook a 17-13 lead with 14 seconds left until halftime after a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took 91 seconds.

The Falcons took a knee, content to kick the ball off to start the second half down four points 17-13.

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Bucs TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (middle) celebrates with teammates after a score

The Bucs started their opening second-half possession with a 15-yard pass to Evans. Weatherspoon stuffed Martin on a three-yard on the next play. Winston dialed up Evans for a deep back-shoulder throw, gaining them 27 yards and putting the ball into Falcons territory. Then Winston hit Seferian-Jenkins on a perfect strike down the seam, with the Bucs tight end getting behind Weatherspoon and making an excellent diving grab in the end zone for a 30-yard score. The Bucs pushed their lead to 24-13 to start the second half.

Ryan connected with his top target in Jones to start the ensuing series, gaining 19 yards on first down. Freeman was able to shake a couple of defenders for a six-yard run on the next play. Sanu converted a first down on a five-yard screen play. But McCoy blew past right guard Chris Chester for a sack, however a flag was thrown after he had a “choreographed celebration” with linebacker Kwon Alexander after the play, giving the Falcons a first down at the Bucs 40-yard line. The Falcons did little with the favorable flag with Freeman gaining one yard on first down, followed by a five-yard loss on a botched screen to Coleman after Lavonte David made an excellent defensive play. On the ensuing 3rd-and-14, Ryan stepped up in the pocket and flipped a nine-yard pass to Tamme to get the ball to the Bucs 35-yard line. Chester was flagged for a personal foul for a slight push on a Bucs defender who was jostling with Tamme on the turf. That penalty pushed the Falcons out of field-goal range and they were forced to punt. Bosher’ 35-yard punt forced a fair catch at the 15, which was pushed back to the eight-yard line after an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Bucs on the return.

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Despite excellent coverage from Robert Alford, Mike Evans makes a great touchdown catch

Alford blanketed Vincent Jackson on Winston’s second-down pass to break it up. On 3rd-and-8, Tyson Jackson batted down Winston’s pass but a defensive holding call against Ishmael was called on the play. Then after the play, Alford got into the face of Mike Evans and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, which the Bucs accepted and got a first down. The Bucs dialed up an end-around to Russell Shepard for nine yards, followed by a trio of runs by Martin. Martin gained a combined 21 yards on those three runs to get the ball into Falcons territory. Then Winston threw another spectacular pass to a streaking Evans, who got behind Alford and safety Robenson Therezie for a 45-yard bomb and score. The Bucs now had a 31-13 lead with 5:12 left in the third quarter after an eight-play, 92-yard scoring drive.

Ryan connected with Hooper to start the next series, who made a 14-yard grab on a crossing pattern off a rollout. Pressure on Ryan on the ensuing play-action fake led to an overthrow of an open Tamme on the next down. Two plays later on 3rd-and-3, Sanu dropped a pass with Grimes in blanket coverage. The Falcons opted to go for it on 4th-and-3 from the 50-yard line with 3:48 left in the third quarter. Ryan connected with Tamme on a quick slant, who made an excellent adjustment to a throw behind him to convert with a 10-yard gain. Sanu then made a nice grab in traffic for seven yards before Ryan tucked it for an eight-yard scramble to convert a second down with the Falcons embracing their no-huddle offense. Two plays later, Jones came wide open on a shallow cross and sprinted untouched for a 25-yard score to put the Falcons back on the scoreboard with 1:35 left in the third quarter. Sanu then got open on a pick play for a successful two-point conversion and the Falcons now had cut the lead to 31-21.

The Falcons defense answered with a quick three-and-out to force another Bucs punt to start the fourth quarter. Ishmael made an excellent stop in pursuit against Martin on 3rd-and-2 to force no gain.

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Bucs safety Bradley McDougald breaks up a deep shot to Julio Jones

Ryan started the next drive with a seven-yard shovel pass to Freeman, followed by an eight-yard hitch to Jones to convert a first down. Freeman then found space on a stretch play off the right side for a 10-yard gain. The Falcons dialed up a big shot to Jones off play action, but Bucs safety Bradley McDougald delivered a big hit to him to separate the receiver from the ball and result in a drop. Jones limped off the field after that play, injuring his ankle on the play. Two plays later on third down, Ryan stepped up in the pocket and was sacked by a blitzing Alexander after he couldn’t find an open receiver on a play-action fake to Coleman. Bosher punted the ball back to the Bucs with 11:33 left in the game.

The Falcons defense continued to hold strong with another three-and-out. Jonathan Babineaux bottled up Sims for no gain on first down, followed up by Jones shoving Winston out of bounds after a four-yard scramble on second down. Then on 3rd-and-6, Trufant had good coverage against Evans on a high throw and the Bucs punted it back to the Falcons with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter.

Coleman ran three yards up the middle to start the ensuing drive and then sped past Bucs linebacker Daryl Smith in the flat for a 21-yard gain. McCoy penetrated the backfield on the next play and dropped Freeman for a loss of three yards on the next play. Coleman then got re-involved, gaining 16 yards on a screen pass to put the ball at the Bucs 23-yard line. Two plays later, McCoy was able to tip a pass at the line to bring up a 3rd-and-12 for the Falcons. Ryan hit Tamme on a slant and broke a tackle to dive towards the sticks, getting the necessary 12 yards with his effort and giving the Falcons a first down in the red zone. Freeman danced in the hole to gain seven yards but that was followed by a toss that was dropped for a five-yard loss. Ryan tried to a quick throw to Coleman on 3rd-and-8, but it was broken up by Bucs cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, forcing Bryant to try another field goal. He hit the 29-yard kick to put the Falcons down a single touchdown with 4:55 left in the game.

The Bucs ground game got on track on the next series with Martin taking the first two plays for a combined 13 yards, followed by a seven-yard gain on an end-around to Humphries. Then Shelby made a nice stop on Martin’s next carry for a gain of zero yards, prompting the Falcons to use their first timeout with 3:10 left in the game. However the screen pass to Sims converted the 3rd-and-3 on a five-yard gain and the Falcons were forced to use a second timeout with 3:04 left on the clock. Babineaux and teammates helped string out a run to Sims that was stopped after a two-yard gain. Martin then avoided Campbell in the hole, but was eventually brought down by Jones after a three-yard gain. The Falcons used their final timeout with 2:23 left, setting up a pivotal 3rd-and-5. The Bucs attempted a quarterback sweep with Winston and Campbell made an excellent open-field tackle after three yards to force the Bucs to punt just as the two-minute warning hit. Weems fair caught Bryan Anger’s 41-yard punt at the Falcons’ nine-yard line with 1:52 left in the game.

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Gerald McCoy celebrates a defensive play late in the game

On first down, Ryan stepped up in the pocket and floated a pass to Tamme for 19 yards to get the Falcons drive going. Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver on the next down and threw it away to preserve some time on the clock. Ryan then threw behind Jones on a shallow cross and the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-10 with 1:22 left in the game. Ryan tried Sanu on the next play, but the receiver stumbled and injured his leg preventing him from adjusting to the throw. Now on 4th-and-10 with 1:17 left in the game the Falcons had but one more shot to continue their hopes of winning. McCoy tipped Ryan’s pass and the ball fell incomplete with the Bucs taking over.

After a pair of kneel downs, the Bucs preserved Dirk Koetter’s first victory as a new head coach.

The Falcons had been previously undefeated in home openers under Matt Ryan since he joined the team in 2008. Now they will go on the road to face the 1-0 Oakland Raiders next week. In their road-openers under Ryan, the team has not fared as favorably. Since 2008, the team is 2-6 in their first road game of the regular season, however managed to pull off a last-minute comeback against the New York Giants a year ago for one of those two wins. The Falcons have also lost three straight road games that immediately followed home losses. Their last win in that situation came in 2014 with a 30-14 win over the New Orleans Saints following a 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the week before. The Falcons have also lost their last two west-coast games, both to the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 and 2015. However the team had previously won six straight, including their last trip to Oakland to face the Raiders back in 2008. The Falcons have beaten the Raiders three consecutive times dating back to 2004, but are 1-3 all-time in road games in Oakland.

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