Ahead of the 2022 season, many pundits and analysts had the Falcons as the worst team in football. That’s why it was such a delight to see them come out and play well in the first four games, getting to a 2-2 record and coming within a couple of plays of having a better record than that. They did so against three decent teams and the Saints, so the improvement was evident.
The Buccaneers were a different challenge. A team with a Hall of Fame quarterback and loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, albeit off to a relatively slow start, was the biggest hurdle yet for an Atlanta team looking to show that they were a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the NFC. The Falcons were down Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, but would they be able to overcome Tampa Bay?
The answer, emphatically, was no. Marcus Mariota scuffled, the offensive line got him killed and stymied the ground game, and drops and penalties doomed the offense. The defense was on the field a lot and predictably struggled after a solid start, allowing Tom Brady to carve them up and utterly failing to contain Leonard Fournette. The Buccaneers were a better team on paper, but they also proved to be a better team in practice, and for the first time this season we saw Atlanta’s ceiling playing out.
They still almost fought their way back, which is a testament to how tough and resilient this team has become over a year ago, before a truly awful call on a Grady Jarrett sack doomed them to a sure loss. The Falcons put themselves into that deep hole in the first place, so it’s hard to say they would’ve won without the call, but certainly that poor decision ultimately ensured they lost. Atlanta has a tough matchup against another capable offense, defense-first San Francisco squad and will need to learn from this loss to win next week, but hopefully they won’t have to work against a tough team and an officiating crew a week from now.
Here’s the drive-by-drive recap.
The Falcons deferred and kicked to the Buccaneers, who started at their own 20 after a short return. Tom Brady missed his first pass after Grady Jarrett got immediate pressure, but Leonard Fournette took a handoff for a first down on the next play. An unproductive run by Fournette gave way to Kyle Rudolph being unable to wrangle a pass, and then Brady throwing it high and nearly getting picked off by A.J. Terrell. Punt rolled into the endzone, and the Falcons started at the 25.
Marcus Mariota couldn’t connect with Drake London on first down owing to tight coverage, and a nice run by Tyler Allgeier wasn’t counted because of an offsides on Tampa Bay. Allgeier was drilled in the backfield on his second down carry before Marcus Mariota found Anthony Frisker for a first down. Feleipe Franks couldn’t come down with a good pass from Mariota on first down and Mariota overthrew Damiere Byrd on second down, setting up a third and long where Mariota was sacked. Punt.
A long Fournette run gave way to nothing, setting up a 3rd and 1. Unfortunately, Chris Godwin got open and made an easy first down grab. A quick pass to Fournette picked up another first down, as the veteran back began to find his footing. Tampa Bay drove deep into Atlanta territory before winding up with a 4th and 1, and excellent play by Grady Jarrett, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and others led to Atlanta stopping Fournette inches shy of a conversion. Atlanta ball.
Caleb Huntley couldn’t get anywhere on first down, but Tyler Allgeier picked up the first down and then some. Mariota then overthrew London on first down, Allgeier got only a little bit on second down, and Mariota found no open men and scrambled for an easy first down on third down. On the next set of downs, two unproductive runs gave way to Mariota finding London downfield for a big first down, but a Drew Dalman penalty wiped that one out.
The Bucs found moving pretty easy, picking up a pair of quick first downs. Tom Brady took an endzone shot on Casey Hayward that Hawyward said no to, knocking the ball down to prevent a long touchdown. Unfortunately, Hayward was hurt on the play, and two plays later Brady found Mike Evans down the sideline for an unreal catch that extended the drive, though he was hobbled a bit after the play. A Scottie Miller catch erased a call that backed the Bucs up to 1st and 22, and then a good run got the Bucs to first and goal. Fournette punched it in. 7-0 Buccaneers.
The Falcons needed to answer, and the start wasn’t promising. Mariota went for a stumbling Franks on a deep ball and missed, and on second down he was able to extend the play but couldn’t get KhaDarel Hodge on the sideline. Hodge got it on third down though and lunged for a first down. Caleb Huntley picked up another one with a couple of nice carries, and then Mariota under pressure found Avery Williams for a short pickup followed by a small Allgeier gain. Under significant pressure, Mariota put one in the dirt and the Falcons had to punt again.
The Buccaneers drove down the field easily before finally stalling out in the red zone, settling for a field goal try. 10-0.
With limited time, the Falcons got moving. Mariota scrambled for eight yards and then found a very wide open Olamide Zaccheaus for a big first down, and a Vita Vea roughing the passer call got Atlanta to the 25 yard line. Unfortunately, Hodge dropped the first down pass and then Mariota was sacked, fumbled, and just managed to recover his own fumble. Koo had to settle for the longish try, and Koo unfortunately missed it.
The Buccaneers decided to disrespect the Falcons’ defense and did not pay for it. After Brady nearly threw a pick on first down, he pushed it to Leonard Fournette for a couple of big gains to bring the Buccaneers into field goal range. Ryan Succop hit the field goal try to make it 13-0 Buccaneers.
The Falcons managed to get moving a bit, but couldn’t get enough with poor run blocking and passes coming up just a big short. Punt.
The Buccaneers found too much success again. Atlanta seemed incapable of keeping Fournette in check, but Cade Otten and Scottie Miller also continued to find success against an Atlanta defense that was back on their heels. A long completion to Mike Evans got Tampa Bay close, and they both punched it in and got a two point conversion, showing a complete disregard for the Falcons’ defense. 21-0 Tampa Bay.
Mariota ran for an impressive gain and a first down to kick things off, but then things stalled out. Tyler Allgeier picked up eight on two carries, but a slow-developing play action play for Mariota ended in a brutal sack, as he had basically no time to work. Punt.
The Buccaneers drive immediately fizzled out and Avery Williams had a nice return, which was a hopeful note. Running the ball effectively got Atlanta the rest of the way, with Williams also getting the touchdown on a nice run after Huntley and Allgeier kept it moving. 21-7 Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers fizzled out quickly, with Brady missing again. Punt.
Mariota missed Zaccheaus on first down to kick off the next drive, but found London for a first down on the next play. Mariota picked up a few yards scrambling, followed by a nice Huntley gain that was erased by a facemask on Elijah Wilkinson. It got worse from there, as Mariota was sacked for the fifth time by Vita Vea to end the drive and force a punt.
Tampa Bay fizzled out again, the product of a Falcons defense finding its footing at last. Punt.
Atlanta got moving with Tyler Allgeier doing a significant amount of work on the ground, Then Mariota and the passing game finally got going, with good pickups to London and a beautiful ball to Zaccheaus after the quarterback missed him earlier in the drive, setting up Zaccheaus to spin out of contact and score a touchdown. Then they stayed on the field and Mariota found Hodge for a two point conversion to make it 21-15 Buccaneers.
Fournette picked up an immediate first down before the Falcons seemingly stalled Tampa Bay, only to be undone by a defensive holding call. Atlanta had the Buccaneers dead to rights on the next series with a huge Grady Jarrett sack on third down, but the officiating crew called perhaps the worst roughing the passer penalty I’ve ever seen on that play to keep Tampa Bay’s drive alive. Tampa Bay was ultimately able to kneel it out and get the win.