MMM, TASTES LIKE CHICKEN!
Ah, you smell that? It’s NFC South football in December. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers strolled into that giant Chinese takeout box they call a stadium in Atlanta and handled their “bidness”, beating the Falcons 30-17 on Sunday. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. The Bucs are now 9-3 for just the third time in franchise history (2002, 2008) and for the first time in 13 years, still in that third playoff seed behind the 10-2 Cardinals and the 9-3 Packers (Green Bay has a better conference record) AND have a comfortable four-game lead for the NFC South title with five games left to play.
The Bucs came into this game riding a wave of confidence after beating a red hot Colts team last week. They have now swept the Falcons in each of the last two seasons while scoring 30+ points in all four games. So let’s take a look at what I came up with for this week’s “Good, Bad & Ugly” from the Bucs vs. Falcons game.
The Bucs First Drive
It was a thing of beauty. Tom Brady led a 13 play/75-yard drive where he completed 11 of 13 passes, gained 6 first downs, and capped it off with a pass to Fournette for a touchdown. It was probably the best opening drive ever the Bucs have had all season. Now they just need to build on it.
The Dynamic Duos
The Bucs had dynamic duos all over the field on Sunday. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combined for 22 catches for 242 yards against the Falcons. Godwin had 15 of those himself, the most by ANY player in the NFL this season AND a franchise record. He now has 82 catches for 949 yards and 5 touchdowns this season and needs just 5 catches to reset his career season-high and 51 yards for his second 1,000 yard season. Evans sits at 794 yards now, needing just 206 over these final five games for his 8th straight 1,000-yard season.
Another dynamic duo on Sunday was Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Brady finished 38 of 51 for 368 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception. That’s the seventh time he’s had 350+ yards with 4+ touchdowns since he became a Buccaneer. All other Bucs QB’s combined had eight such games in the team’s 44 years of existence. He has thrown 4 TD’s in 6 of 12 games this season, which puts him at 73 with the Bucs and ties him with Doug Williams for fourth-most in franchise history. It also gives him 34 touchdowns for the season, which not only leads the league but is seven more than the next highest quarterback. By the way, 34 touchdowns are the 8th most through 12 games in NFL history. He now has the top two passing touchdown totals for a season in franchise history with 40 last year and now 34 this year, surpassing Jameis Winston’s 33 from the 2019 season.
Rob Gronkowski had 2 “tuddies” in this game, giving him 6 touchdowns for the season, 13 with the Bucs, and 92 total for his career. That moves him past Isaac Bruce for 12th on the all-time list. It was also his 20th multi-score game, leaving him just one shy of the NFL record for tight ends held by Antonio Gates. He hooked up with Tom Brady in the regular season for the 89th and 90th time, moving them past Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for second on the all-time list, trailing only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
The other dynamic duo in this game was Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. Those two wreaked havoc in the Falcons backfield with their interior pass rush. Both guys finished with 2 sacks each, giving Suh 6 for the season, matching his total from last year and Vea 3 matching his career season-high. This was Suh’s 7th multi-sack game of his career.
As I said earlier, Brady was 38 of 51 for 368 yards, 4 touchdowns, and the 1 interception for a pick-six. Brady OWNS the Falcons. In their two meetings this season, he’s thrown for 644 yards, 9 touchdowns, and just 1 pick. The Bucs have now swept the Falcons for the last two seasons, scoring 30+ points in all four games. Including the postseason, they have now scored 30+ points 19 times since Brady joined them, the most by any team in the league during that span. They are 7-0 when doing it this season. He is now 21-10 when throwing 50+ passes in a game. No other QB in NFL history has more than 5 wins in their career when doing so. In fact, Brady is 11-3 in his last 14 games doing it, while the rest of the league is 3-11-1 during the same period. He is now 10-0 against Atlanta for his career, joining John Elway and Andrew Luck as the ONLY quarterbacks with 10 wins and zero losses versus one team.
The Pass Defense
It was brief, but the “Grave Diggers” were finally back together again. Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean were on the field together for the first time since Week 2 of this season. Dean ended up leaving the game with a concussion early on, but they kept Atlanta’s receivers out of the endzone all day and held Matt Ryan to less than 300 yards passing. This was the first game back for Davis, who had been out since Week 4 with an injury, and he played better than expected, allowing just 11 yards on 7 targets with three of the team’s five pass breakups AND a fumble recovery.
The Falcons First Drive
After the Bucs beautiful opening drive on offense, Atlanta answered with a drive of their own. They marched 75 yards down the field in 6 plays and just over 3 minutes by running over and through the NFL’s #1 rush defense. Of their six plays, three were runs of 7 yards, 39 yards, and 17 yards on the touchdown run by Mike Davis. The defense that was only allowing an average of 81 rushing yards per game gave up 63 rushing yards on that first drive alone. The Bucs run defense did stiffen up after that, giving up less than 60 yards for the rest of the game, but the damage had been done, even if that was their only offensive touchdown of the game. In fact, they shut the Falcons out in the second half, which is the fifth time they’ve done that since the start of the 2020 season after doing it just five times from the 2011 to 2019 seasons.
This could’ve been a back-breaker. With a 21-10 lead, the Bucs got the ball back with just under a minute left in the 2nd quarter with a chance to put more points on the board and grow their lead before halftime. Instead, on the second play of the possession, Brady attempted a screen pass to Leonard Fournette that was intercepted by defensive tackle Marlon Davidson at the 3-yard line and walked in for a touchdown. The Falcons cut the lead to 21-17 at the half and were set to get the ball back to open the second half, but luckily the Bucs defense forced Atlanta’s only turnover of the game to stop the drive and the bleeding.
The Missed Tackles
They were a HUGE problem in this game for some reason. ProFootballFocus.com had the Bucs missing a season-high 15 tackles in this game, and I believe it. They were a BIG reason why the Falcons had some success running the football, and they were a BIG reason why they had the yards they did in the passing game. Nonetheless, they were able to overcome the poor tackling performance and pull out the win.
The Run Defense
I talked about that opening drive earlier where the Bucs gave up 63 rushing yards in 3 plays. They allowed 121 rushing yards total for the game, while Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis averaged 7 yards per carry between them. That average is a bit skewed, considering Patterson had a 39 yard run and 12 other carries for 39 yards, and Davis had a 17-yard run and 3 other carries for 15 yards. After that first drive, they only gave up 58 yards on 20 carries; however, it was not the stingy type run defense that we’re used to seeing from that unit.
The 3rd Down D
Getting off the field on third down has been an issue for this Bucs defense all season, and this game was no exception. As good as they played, holding the offense to 10 points and shutting them out in the second half, they still allowed the Falcons to convert 9 of 17 third downs. That’s terrible, and it’s unacceptable. They have to be better, especially this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills offense.
It was a win. That’s all any of us care about. But it wasn’t pretty. The Bucs are now 9-3 for the fourth time in franchise history and one win away from clinching their first NFC South division title since the 2007 season. In 1979, they lost three of their last four games; but made the playoffs and lost in the NFC Championship game. In 2002, they ended up 12-4 and won the Super Bowl. In 2008, they lost four straight, finishing 8-8, and missed the playoffs. The Bucs have now won 17 of their last 20 games. Tom Brady is now; 24-8 as a Buccaneer. They now have a four-game lead in the division and can clinch on Sunday with a win against the Bills, a Saints loss at the Jets, and a Panthers loss at the Falcons.
A division win; on the road, against the Falcons. It’s a quality win, no matter how bad the Falcons suck this season. The Bucs could’ve played better on both sides of the ball, but they played well enough to get the “W“. Tampa Bay is 24-8 with Tom Brady over these last two seasons and won the Super Bowl, and I still don’t think we’ve seen this team play to their full potential for a full game yet. That’s scary. At least it should be to every other team in the league.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
The Bucs are still sitting in that third playoff seed behind the 10-2 Cardinals and the 9-3 Packers. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Bucs would be facing Washington once again in the first round, except it would be in Tampa.
The 7-5 Bills, the 5-7 Saints, the 5-7 Panthers twice, AND the 3-9 Jets. That’s all that stands between the Bucs and an NFC South title with a 14-3 record. It’s very possible. One team with a winning record, coming to Raymond James Stadium this Sunday. It’s going to be a playoff-like atmosphere for that game, and I can’t wait!
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!