TAMPA BAY-- Linebacker Deion Jones picked off a pass by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston in overtime on the first play of the extra session & the final play of the season to give the Atlanta Falcons a 28-22 overtime win.
Atlanta (7-9) won the game's opening coin toss & elected to receive the ball. And after four short passes by quarterback Matt Ryan that got their offense into Buccaneers' territory, the Falcons used a play that Buccaneers' offense has used themselves this year. Falcons offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo reported in the game as a tackle eligible. And just like the Buccaneers (7-9) used their own large man, defensive tackle Vita Vea, to snatch a touchdown catch earlier this year, Ryan, who threw for over 300 yards in the game for the 11th time this season, found his own large teammate wide open in the Buccaneers' secondary & Sambrailo rumbled into the endzone untouched for a 35 yard touchdown catch.
Following the Falcons' touchdown drive to start the game, the Buccaneers got their first possession of the game. But like in several games this year, their opening play from scrimmage resulted with a turnover when running back Ronald Jones fumbled the football while running up the middle of the Falcons' defense. Jones made the recovery but although the turnover set their offense up well inside Buccaneers' territory, the Falcons were only able to get inside the redzone before being forced to settle for a 27 yard field goal by kicker Younghoe Koo.
Now trailing 10-0, the Buccaneers moved out of their territory quickly when on his first pass of the game quarterback Jameis Winston hit wide receiver Breshad Perriman with a 37 yard pass. But the Buccaneers' offense was unable to get another first down on the drive & on fourth down kicker Matt Gay was wide right on a 49 yard field goal attempt.
The teams traded three & outs on multiple possessions but the Buccaneers eventually got their first touchdown of the game after a 9 play 67 yard play drive that included two completions by Winston to Perriman & ended with the quarterback finding tight end Cam Brate on an out route with a fourth & goal touchdown pass from the two yard line. On the drive, Winston became the eight NFL player & first player in franchise history to eclipse 5,000 passing yards in one season.
On the strength of 30 yards passing by Ryan plus two defensive penalties, the Falcons moved the ball into the redzone. But on a third & 12 play, Ryan was called for an illegal forward pass when he passed the line of scrimmage on an incomplete pass. That led to Koo hitting another field goal, this one from 33 yards away, making the score 13-7.
The game's next two drives resulted in turnovers, one by each team. First, Winston threw a pass intended for wide receiver Justin Watson that was intercepted by safety Ricardo Allen. That turnover put the Falcons inside the redzone. But on a third & goal play from the 10 yard line, Ryan was stripped of the football by linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. The football was wisely picked up by rookie linebacker Devin White, who ran 91 yards into the endzone for a scoop & score touchdown. The fumble recovery which was upheld by replay, gave Pierre-Paul his fifth sack in the last two games & the second defensive touchdown of the season for White. It also gave the Buccaneers a one point lead, their first of the game.
As the first half approached the two minute warning, the Falcons got in field goal range again & took the lead again when Koo hit a 45 yard field goal, his third field goal of the game.
With under a minute left in the first half & trailing by two points, the Buccaneers put together their second touchdown drive of the first half. The drive was five plays long & just like their first touchdown drive of the game, it included Winston hitting Perriman with two completions. The first one was a 31 yard completion with Winston hitting Perriman with a pass in between two defenders. And on the second completion, Winston threw a pass, high into the back of the endzone that Perriman jumped up & grabbed for a 24 yard touchdown catch. The Buccaneers converted the two point conversion when Winston, unable to find an open receiver, scramble to his right & ran the ball into the endzone.
Neither team scored in the third quarter but it's only because the Buccaneers missed not one but two opportunities to add to their halftime lead. One the first possession of the second half, Gay missed a 44 yard field goal. Then after a brief Falcons' drive, Gay missed a 34 yard field goal, this one wide left.
After Gay's third missed field goal attempt, the Falcons held the ball for 13 plays & seven minutes. But once inside the redzone again, the Falcons were unable to convert on two attempts to get one yard & turned the ball over on downs.
After the Buccaneers failed to get a first down on their next drive, the Falcons did cut into their six point deficit when Koo connected from 43 yards away. And after a 14 play drive, the kicker tied the score as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime, with a 33 yard field goal.
Overtime lasted all of one play from scrimmage because after they won the toss & elected to receive the ball, the Buccaneers started their possession on their own 25 yard line. And like he did in six other games, Winston threw a pick six. Jones stepped in front of a pass to the right & ran the ball back 28 yards for the season & game-ending play. The interception was Winston's 30th of the year & after his two touchdown passes in the game, the quarterback finished the season with a franchise record 33 touchdowns & became the first player in NFL history to throw 30 or more touchdowns & 30 interceptions in the same season. Winston's final season numbers also included a franchise setting 5,109 yards.
The Buccaneers finished the season under .500 for the third straight season & will miss the playoffs for the 12th straight year, while the Falcons won six of their last eight games of the year. And as stable as the Falcons are at quarterback with Ryan, the Buccaneers must decide whether or not to bring back Winston, who played this year under the final year of his rookie contract that he signed in 2015.