This looked, early on, like the fitting capper to a terrible Falcons season: A listless loss that would have made us all angry earlier in the year, but just made us apathetically and disappointedly grunt a few times. And then, for a moment, it wasn’t. And then it was again. And then, unexpectedly, it really wasn’t. And then it was, and Atlanta managed to squeak out their seventh win of the season.
This Falcons season was defined as much by its overarching disappointment as it was by its rare moments of brilliance. This game featured both in spades, with Atlanta managing a touchdown grab by Matt Ryan, a Damontae Kazee pick, a handful of stone solid defensive stops, and a second half that actually featured some competitive football for the Falcons. But it was still, considering the opponent and the fact that the Falcons largely trotted out their starters, a disappointing effort for a long while.
But these Falcons didn’t pack it in for a change. Through the final three games, all admittedly against lackluster opponents, they delivered strong efforts. In this one, they went down 17 and then rattled off a 31-3 run to go up by 11 on Tampa Bay. If you were looking for a reason to think this team might do something next year with healthier, better talent, the fact that they managed to string together quality efforts has to count for something. It hurt their draft stock, sure, but it gave them something to build on, and now they must build on it given that Dan Quinn is getting another shot. Another 7-9 will be curtains for Quinn and potentially the front office, too, making this sure-to-be-long offseason a pivotal one.
If you believe Quinn isn’t the right man to lead this team, it’s aggravating that he’s getting the shot at all. If you believe he is, or you’re at least open to the possibility, you’re just looking for changes to the coaching staff and roster to push this team past their disappointing year. Time and plenty of arguments will tell which side is correct here.
That’s it, then. The Falcons finish 7-9 and head into an offseason where they must bolster both lines significantly. May they do so, and may we not endure another season like this anytime soon.
For the first several minutes of this game, I was wrestling with my TV, so all you need to know is that the Bucs punted, the Falcons made a tiny bit of noise and punted, and then the Bucs were driving again.
The Buccaneers found plenty of holes in a soft Falcons zone defense, with Desmond Trufant enjoying one of his worst drives in weeks. He ultimately surrendered a touchdown to Mike Evans after Jamies Winston dropped the pass perfectly over his head.
Falcons 0 - Buccaneers 7
The Falcons missed a pass on first down and then Tevin Coleman had virtually nowhere to go on the most predictable second down running play of all-time. Then they came up short of the first down on third down and had to punt, again.
The Bucs got nowhere on their first two downs thanks to a strong defensive effort, but on third down Jameis Winston was able to scramble for an easy first down to keep the drive alive. Then Winston petered out, completing a couple of passes that fell short of a first down and allowing the Falcons to snag a nice Desmond Trufant pass breakup and an open field tackle by Sharrod Neasman. Punt. We were a little ways into the second quarter at this point.
The Falcons got eight yards! And then had to punt yet again.
The Bucs found themselves backed up on 3rd and 8 on the next drive, but Winston was able to move around in the pocket until he found a first day option. The Falcons had trouble getting after Winston, and with time in the pocket, he was only too happy to make things happen. When the pressure finally did arrive, with a sack and a forced throw away for Winston, the Falcons at least only allowed a field goal to Tampa Bay.
Falcons 0 - Buccaneers 10
Atlanta must have felt some sort of urgency, because...no, never mind, they didn’t do much. A Ty Sambrailo penalty and missed connections defined the drive, which ended with yet another punt.
The Bucs didn’t have the same degree of trouble, predictably, but they also didn’t exactly make a drive of it. A big third down run stop forced another punt. My goodness, was it difficult to get amped up about this at this point.
The Falcons got a very nice carry from Tevin Coleman to open the drive, with a ten yard pickup in the offing. Then Matt Ryan couldn’t connect with Julio Jones over the middle, the inevitable 2nd and 10 carry went nowhere, and third down was much the same. It was certainly not Matt Ryan’s sharpest effort to this point.
The Bucs turned a 1st and 10 into a swift pickup to bring them close to midfield, and then attacked downfield and had little trouble scoring another touchdown through the air, putting them up 17-0. At this point, it was effectively a rout.
Falcons 0 - Buccaneers 17
The Falcons had very little time to work with, and they attacked the sidelines effectively to try and make the most of that limited time. They managed to pull inside the 20 with about :24 left on the clock, and Matt Ryan found Julio Jones in traffic in the end zone for the team’s first score of the game. They were, at least, on the board.
Falcons 7 - Buccaneers 17
The Bucs couldn’t do much with their limited time, just like the rest of us.
Oh good, we were back. The Falcons were able to build on their end of first half momentum a bit thanks to a short Russell Gage sideline grab accompanied by a costly Buccaneers facemask, and then a nice Matt Ryan scramble for a first down a couple of plays later. Ryan to Sanu on the sideline got the drive inside the 20 before Ryan couldn’t find Julio on first down, the inevitable second run down run went nowhere, and Julio bailed the Falcons out with a nice sideline grab. Mohamed Sanu was under center after a failed first down, but the Wildcat handoff didn’t go very far either. But then the Falcons ran an inspired, fun play, with a handoff to Calvin Ridley that went back to Mohamed Sanu for a touchdown pass to Matt Ryan. Yes, it was Ryan’s first reception ever.
Falcons 14 - Buccaneers 17
That humiliation sparked something for Tampa Bay, which was watching its lead go up in smoke. They managed a series of sharp passes to get inside the red zone, where they petered out and settled for a field goal.
Falcons 14 - Buccaneers 20
The Falcons now had the chance to take the lead, and for a brief while it appeared they might do it. Instead, it came down to Matt Bryant’s leg, and he drilled a field goal to bring the Falcons within 3.
Falcons 17 - Buccaneers 20
The Bucs might’ve made something of their drive, but instead a tipped pass ended up in the hands of Damontae Kazee, who snagged his seventh interception of the 2018 season. That’s the most a single Falcon has had in a good, long while.
The Falcons were suddenly on fire, as Tevin Coleman took it about 30 yards for an easy touchdown thanks to quality blocking and his extreme speed. For a guy about to seek a lucrative contract in free agency, it was a hell of a final impression to leave on the Falcons and his other potential suitors.
Falcons 24 - Buccaneers 20
The Bucs had now turned a 17-0 lead into a 24-3 run by the Falcons, which meant that Dirk Koetter’s ticket out of town was certainly punched. But could they rally?
The Bucs punted.
The Falcons found Julio Jones downfield to get things moving, and the story of the drive might have been how good Julio looked despite all the injuries he’s been dealing with. At the end, Matt Ryan was able to find Calvin Ridley for a jog-in touchdown, which gave Ridley the franchise’s all-time single season reciving touchdowns record for a rookie. Atlanta was straight up embarrassing Tampa Bay at this point.
Falcons 31 - Buccaneers 20
The Bucs finally answered in swift fashion, picking up a touchdown but failing to get a two point conversion thanks to a very nice Robert Alford tackle. That made it a five point game.
Falcons 31 - Buccaneers 26
Matt Ryan threw an interception, dangit. I was hoping he would not.
The Bucs did not waste that turnover, as Winston continued his Falcons-killing ways and absolutely picked apart Atlanta’s defense for a score to put Tampa Bay up by a single point. They couldn’t manage the two point conversion, however, so a one point game it remained.
Falcons 31 - Buccaneers 32
Atlanta could have tucked it away there, but declined to do so. Ryan found receivers open over the middle of the field, including Julio, and Brian Hill showed his excellent running in Week 16 was not a fluke as he juked his way through Tampa Bay defenders. That got the Falcons well into Tampa Bay territory before a penalty backed them up, but they managed to chew up the clock and keep moving ever closer to Matt Bryant’s field goal, which he hit. That was ballgame.
Falcons 34 - Buccaneers 32