The Atlanta Falcons dropped their fifth straight game, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 23-19 on Sunday. The two teams exchanged leads throughout the second half, with the Bucs scoring their last touchdown on a pass to wide receiver Mike Evans with 1:39 left in the game. Then the Falcons had an opportunity to go down the field for a game-winning score before quarterback Matt Ryan threw a game-killing interception on first down to linebacker Lavonte David, sealing the Bucs victory.
Ryan was relatively steady until the end, completing 30 of 45 passes for 269 yards with a touchdown and interception. Ryan was sacked three times.
Devonta Freeman made a return to the lineup after missing last week with a concussion and led the Falcons with 47 rushing yards on 14 carries. Tevin Coleman saw limited usage, rushing for 13 yards on three carries.
In the air, Freeman also led receivers with 10 catches for 56 yards. Julio Jones added a team-leading 93 receiving yards on eight catches. Roddy White and Jacob Tamme each caught three passes for 33 and 26 yards, respectively. Nick Williams scored the team’s lone touchdown on his only reception for five yards.
Kicker Shayne Graham scored the team’s first 12 points, connecting on all four field goal attempts of 28, 47, 52 and 29 yards. Matt Bosher punted four times with an average of 48.3 yards per kick. Devin Hester saw his first action of the season, returning two kickoffs for 47 yards and one punt for three yards.
Offensively the Falcons totaled 319 yards and converted half of their 16 third-down attempts. They only converted on one of three trips into the red zone, settling on too many field goals early.
Defensively the Buccaneers gained 388 total yards and converted six of 11 third-down attempts (55 percent). The Bucs were effective controlling the ball with their ground attack, totaling 166 rushing yards, the second most allowed by the Falcons defense in 2015. They were able to score touchdowns on three of their four trips into the red zone.
Linebacker Paul Worrilow led the team with 10 tackles, also adding a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. He had an interception that was also wiped out by a penalty on cornerback Desmond Trufant. Robert Alford (two tackles, one pass breakup), Ricardo Allen (eight tackles, one fumble recovery), Jonathan Babineaux (two tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits), Kroy Biermann (two tackles, one quarterback hit), Justin Durant (five tackles, one pass breakup), Ra’Shede Hageman (three tackles, one quarterback hit), Grady Jarrett (four tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), Robenson Therezie (four tackles), Trufant (four tackles, one interception, one pass breakup) and Phillip Wheeler (four tackles) had notable performances.
The Bucs worked hard to establish the run early in the game, handing the ball off to running back Doug Martin on their first six plays to start the game. Martin was effective at moving the ball on those carries, combining for 27 yards on those six runs and converting a pair of first downs. Worrilow did a nice job knifing through the line to stop Martin for a three-yard loss on his sixth run. Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston’s first pass came on the seventh play of the series, a 3rd-and-12 where his check down to tight end Cameron Brate was stopped by Durant after a five-yard gain, forcing a Bucs punt.
To start their first offensive series, the Falcons dialed up a pass to Jones, who Ryan hit for a 12-yard gain. Freeman’s next two runs went for little gain, just three combined yards to bring up a 3rd-and-7. The Falcons were able to convert on a swing pass to fullback Patrick DiMarco, who sprinted after the catch for a nine-yard gain. Ryan missed on his next pass to Tamme and then again on second down as Jones slipped on his route and Ryan’s pass was nearly picked off by a Bucs defender. That brought on another third down, with wide receiver Justin Hardy not able to make the grab on the slant with cornerback Alterraun Verner in tight coverage. The Falcons punted it back to the Bucs with 7:29 left in the first quarter.
Winston’s next pass was complete on a 15-yard grab by tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was nailed by safety William Moore at the end of the play. Pressure by defensive tackle Paul Soliai forced Winston to miss Martin on a throw over the middle. Martin carried the ball on the next two plays, getting eight yards and then converting a 3rd-and-2 on a three-yard run. Winston tried to hit Evans on his next throw, but Alford was there to strip him before he could secure the ball and cause an incompletion. On the very next play, running back Charles Sims was able to break a tackle by Durant in the flat and sprint for an 18-yard gain to put the ball into Falcons territory. Martin was able to shake Allen on a run up the middle to get a 14-yard gain on the next play, but an illegal shift penalty on the Bucs nullified the big gain. Another flag backed up the Bucs further with right tackle Demar Dotson being flagged for illegal formation. That pushed the Bucs back to a 1st-and-20 but Winston was able to get 14 of those yards back on a comeback to Evans, who beat Trufant along the sideline. A five-yard run by Sims set up a 3rd-and-1, which the Bucs converted on a run to Martin for two yards off the right side. With a new set of downs at the Falcons 22-yard line, Winston missed Seferian-Jenkins on his next throw. Martin was able to break to the outside on a run to the right and was eventually dragged down by the face mask by Wheeler, drawing the flag and giving the Bucs seven more yards. That set them up for 1st-and-goal at the six-yard line and two plays later Winston was able to escape pressure and run into the end zone for a five-yard scramble and score. That put the Bucs up 7-0 with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
Ryan reconnected with Hardy to start the next series, hitting him over the middle for an 11-yard gain. Freeman was able to get to the left edge to gain nine yards before converting two plays later on 3rd-and-1 with a three-yard run to start the second quarter. Ryan hit Jones on his next pass, who fought after the catch for a first down on a 12-yard gain, putting the Falcons in Bucs territory for the first time all game. Three plays later, Freeman took a pitch from Ryan and sprinted 14 yards on the elect side for a big gain. An illegal use of hands penalty on defensive tackle Akeem Spence gifted the Falcons an additional five yards, putting the ball at the Buccaneers 19-yard line and getting the team in the red zone for the first time. The Falcons dialed up three consecutive passes to Jones, who was able to make a juggling grab for nine yards on 3rd-and-6 on the third one. That gave the Falcons 1st-and-goal at the Bucs six-yard line. The Falcons tried a draw play to Freeman that barely gained a yard. On second down, Ryan was able to find time in the pocket but the receivers had difficulty getting open. A streaking White was running in the back of the end zone, but Ryan missed him on a high throw. Then Ryan was sacked on third down, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Graham, who made it. The Falcons were now on the board down 7-3 with 9:36 left in the second quarter.
The Bucs drive started poorly thanks to a holding penalty on linebacker Adarius Glanton on the kickoff, forcing them to start from their eight-yard line. On second down, Trufant was beat on a 10-yard curl by Evans. The Bucs barely moved the ball over their next two plays, setting up a 3rd-and-8. Rookie cornerback Jalen Collins was beat by Vincent Jackson and then whiffed on the tackle, letting the veteran receiver sprint for a 36-yard gain after the catch. Winston’s next pass did not connect with Seferian-Jenkins thanks to a hit by Babineaux causing the overthrow. Babineaux then was able to get penetration and helped stop Martin of a loss of three yards to set up a 3rd-and-13. The Bucs tried a draw play and Martin was stuffed by Worrilow and Trufant after a four-yard gain, prompting a Bucs punt which was downed at the Falcons eight-yard line.
Bucs safety Bradley McDougald was able to bust up a throw to Jones along the sideline, delivering a hit and forcing the receiver to drop the ball on first down. The Falcons attempted something akin to a read option, but when Ryan kept the ball he was dropped for a sack by defensive end William Gholston for a loss of a yard. On 3rd-and-11, Ryan was able to get outside the pocket and find an open Hardy over the middle for a 23-yard gain. Ryan connected on his next three passes to Freeman, Tamme and Jones for eight, seven and 18 yards, respectively. The last catch was able to move the ball into Bucs territory. However on the next play, a blitzing Kwon Alexander was able to come up the middle and deliver a big hit on Ryan, jarring the ball loose. Lucikly Coleman was there to fall on the loose ball and the Falcons retained possession just as the two-minute warning hit. But they now had 2nd-and-23 from midfield after a loss of 13 yards on the previous play. Freeman was able to gain 12 yards on his next catch to make up some of that lost yardage. On 3rd-and-11, DiMarco was able to gain nine yards to set up a 4th-and-2 with 1:06 left in the half. The Falcons opted to go for the kick rather than going for it on fourth down, and Graham put the 47-yard kick right down the middle. The Falcons were now down 7-6 with 1:01 left in the half.
The Bucs were able to start moving the ball on their next drive with Winston hitting Seferian-Jenkins on first down for an eight-yard gain. Evans was once again able to get the better of Trufant on second down, gaining 15 yards. But Trufant redeemed himself on the next play, when Winston’s pass to Evans was deflected off the receivers hands and the Falcons cornerback was able to catch the deflection before going out of bounds. That gave the Falcons another chance to take the lead with 34 seconds left in the half at their 49-yard line.
Ryan connected with Jones on a shallow cross for eight yards to start the drive. Then the pair connected again for five yards on a throw over the middle to convert the first down. Ryan was able to hit White on his next pass along the sideline for a five-yard gain, stopping the clock with 16 seconds left. The Falcons then lost two yards when Ryan tried to check it down to Freeman in the flat. Then another check down to Freeman gained the Falcons just one yard, forcing the Falcons to settle for another field goal. Bryant hit the 52-yard kick again right down the middle, giving the Falcons their first lead of the game, with a score of 9-7 going into halftime.
The Falcons got the ball to start the second half with Hester able to return his first kickoff of the year for 29 yards. The team dialed up a play-action pass to start the series, with Ryan hitting Jones for a 25-yard gain. Two plays later, a nice run by Freeman off the right side was brought back due to a hold on White. The receiver redeemed himself by gaining 21 yards on a deep floater over the middle from Ryan on 3rd-and-9. Tamme gained nine yards two plays later to set up a 3rd-and-1 from the Bucs 18-yard line. Freeman was able to convert on a four-yard run up the middle. Coleman subbed in on the next two plays, rushing for five yards and then being dropped for a two-yard loss on a stretch play. On 3rd-and-7, Ryan was able to get outside the pocket but his pass to Jones in the back of the end zone was broken up by safety Chris Conte. The Falcons were forced to settle for another field goal, with Graham hitting the 29-yard kick to give the Falcons a 12-7 lead with 8:35 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs turned to Martin on their next series, starting the drive with a pair of runs for a combined 11 yards. Winston dialed up a deep shot to Evans, overthrowing the receiver. Evans was also flagged for offensive pass interference against Alford, pushing the Bucs back 10 yards. However two plays later, Jackson was able to sneak between the Falcons safeties Allen and Therezie for a leaping 29-yard grab. Sims then was able to juke Allen up the middle for a 25-yard gain, putting the ball in the red zone. Sims got the ball on two of the next three play calls, juking and breaking his way for a combined 15 yards and putting the Bucs now on the doorstep at the Falcons one-yard line. Martin finished off the drive with a one-yard leap over the pile. The Bucs went for a two-point conversion, but pressure from Babineaux forced Winston to miss wide receiver Adam Humphries in the back of the end zone. The Bucs were now back on top of the scoreboard with a 13-12 lead with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter.
Hester tried to take it deep out of the end zone, but his 18-yard return set up the Falcons at their 11-yard line. Ryan took a shot to Jones to start the drive, but Jones couldn’t reel in the sideline catch. Then Ryan missed Jones on an out pattern on second down. In the face of pressure, Ryan tried to throw it away in the direction of DiMarco, who was too busy blocking to be considered a receiver. That drew the intentional grounding flag and with Ryan near the goal line, it appeared at first that the Bucs had earned a safety. However the officials correctly saw that Ryan’s body was not in the end zone at the time of his throwaway and it just amounted to a loss of downs, forcing the Falcons to punt after a three-and-out. Bucs running back Bobby Rainey gained 28 yards on the return, giving the team very promising field position at the Falcons 34-yard line.
Martin was able to gain seven yards on first down, with an additional 15 yards tacked on thanks to a face mask penalty against Hageman. After the Falcons stuffed Martin for no gain, several Falcons defenders were seen shoving Bucs after the whistle, which drew a personal foul penalty on Moore. That gave the Bucs seven more yards, as they found themselves with 1st-and-goal at the Falcons six-yard line. After Martin was stuffed for a one-yard gain, Durant was able to break up the throw to Jackson in the end zone. On 3rd-and-goal, Winston couldn’t hit Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone with Worrilow draped over him. That forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal, with kicker Connor Barth hitting the 23-yard kick to push Tampa’s lead to 16-12 with 1:21 left in the third quarter.
Freeman was able to pick his way to a four-yard gain on first down on a run up the middle. But his next run was stopped for a two-yard loss thanks to David knifing through the line. On 3rd-and-8, Ryan couldn’t connect with Jones on the final play of the third quarter and the Falcons were punting after their second straight three-and-out.
Winston hit Evans for a 16-yard gain to start the next series, moving the ball into Falcons territory. But on the next play, Martin was stripped by Worrilow and Allen was able to come up with the ball beneath the pile. That gave the Falcons the ball back with 14:08 on the clock at their 45-yard line.
Ryan was hit as he threw on first down and missed on throw to Jones to start the series. But then a six-yard screen to Freeman, set up a 3rd-and-4. Ryan was able to scramble and get to the sticks on a four-yard gain. After a measurement, the Falcons had a first down by the nose of the ball. Ryan hit Freeman on another check down, this time for a 13-yard gain before finding White on an out pattern for seven yards. Coleman gained 10 yards on a run up the middle to get the ball into the red zone. Tamme got the Falcons 10 more yards after breaking a tackle and fighting for a first down. Ryan was able to hit Williams on a play-action sprint out, with the Falcons receiving scoring on a five-yard play. The Falcons retook the lead, up 19-16 with 10:41 left in the game.
Hageman was able to make an open-field tackle on a check down to Sims after a gain of three yards to start the next series. Winston then tried to hit Jackson, but Trufant was draped over him and his tight coverage forced the incompletion. On third down, Winston got hit by Babineaux and overthrew his check down to Sims in the flat. The Bucs punted after their first three-and-out of the game.
Freeman was able to get 11 yards on a run up the middle on second down of the ensuing Falcons series. But his run to the edge lost two yards thanks again to David’s defense. Two plays later, pressure got to Ryan and he was forced to lob a throw to Williams downfield. Williams was in position to make the diving grab, but couldn’t reel it in and the Falcons were punting it right back to the Bucs with 6:55 left in the game.
Jarrett was able to defeat a blocker and stuff Sims for a one-yard gain to start the ensuing series. But Jackson gained 22 yards on a crossing route in front of Allen. Two plays later, Trufant was able to break up a throw to Evans, which deflected into the arms of Worrilow for an interception. But the turnover was wiped out due to Trufant drawing a pass interference flag on his coverage, giving the Bucs the ball back at the Falcons 46-yard line. Three plays later, Martin was able to break to the outside for a 28-yard gain, but thankfully Dotson was flagged for a holding call on Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley. Two plays later on 2nd-and-14, Winston wasn’t able to escape the pocket and tripped for a sack, with Jarrett getting the credit. But on 3rd-and-19, Winston was able to scramble up the middle and despite colliding with several Falcons defenders, was able to get up off the pile and run for an additional yardage to convert on a 20-yard run. Martin took another carry for 11 yards just as the two-minute warning hit, now with the Bucs having the ball at the Falcons 12-yard line. Martin’s next run went for two yards with the Falcons burning their first second-half timeout after the play. After a four-yard run by Martin, the Falcons used their second timeout. On the very next play, Winston was able to get outside the pocket and hit Evans, who made a nice sliding catch for a six-yard score. The Bucs now had a 23-19 lead with 1:39 left in the game.
Ryan tried to hit Jones over the middle to start the series, but his pass was under thrown and picked off by a leaping David at the Falcons 35-yard line. The Bucs took over with 1:32 left in the game and went into victory formation for three straight plays to end it.
The Falcons now fall to 6-6 for the season and remain winless in the NFC South. Their road won’t get any easier next week when they square off against the undefeated Carolina Panthers (11-0) for the first time next week on the road. The Falcons are thus far 1-0 when playing a road game immediately coming off a road loss. The Panthers will be returning home where they have nine consecutive games going back to December 2014. After winning seven of the first nine games against the Panthers to start Ryan’s career, the Falcons have now only beaten the Panthers once in their last five match ups dating back to the end of the 2012 season. Their lone win in that span did come on the road against the Panthers a year ago with a 19-17 victory. Prior to that the Falcons had lost two consecutive games in Carolina. Their most recent matchup was a 34-3 blowout at the hands of the Panthers to close out the 2014 season and eliminate the Falcons from playoff contention.