The Atlanta Falcons played the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a lot of heart Sunday, but that would not be enough as the Buccaneers held off the Falcons 48-25 in a game a lot closer than fans and pundits would have liked.
Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards had two pick-sixes, and Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes, two each to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans, as Tampa Bay pulled away after the Falcons cut the Bucs' once 18-point-lead to three in the fourth quarter.
The game seemed over when Mike Evans hauled in his second touchdown pass of the game, a 1-yard fade from Tom Brady, five plays after a Shaquille Barrett interception of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on the Falcons' opening second-half drive that gave the Bucs a 28-10 lead.
After that Bucs score, the Falcons took their next possession down the field and went for it on fourth and goal from the three, with Ryan completing a touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley, making the score 28-17. The Bucs went three-and-out on their subsequent possession, and Bradley Pinion's punt was returned by Avery Williams to the Bucs' 46.
Atlanta made it 28-25 on an improvised seven-yard touchdown from Ryan to Koradelle Patterson, who made a one-handed catch as Ryan tossed a short floater over Devin White's arms.
Meanwhile, Atlanta's defense held the Bucs' offense to only 19 third-quarter yards, as the momentum completely shifted to Atlanta's side.
Atlanta likely acquired that momentum at the end of the first half, having scored a field goal to make it 21-10, aided by Buccaneers (and referee) mistakes. A questionable offside penalty on Barrett negated a Devin White fumble recovery that went for an apparent touchdown that would have left 10 seconds on the clock. However, officials ruled the offside penalty, and an incomplete pass, when replay showed an obvious fumble by Ryan. That set the clock back to 19 seconds, giving the Falcons a little more time. On the next play, Atlanta got into field goal range after a personal foul call on Carlton Davis for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
The Bucs, however, got back that momentum on a 57-yard Bradley Pinion punt that pinned the Falcons at their four yard line. On third-and-1 of that Falcons drive, Rakeem Nunez-Roches dropped Patterson for a loss, and a poor punt by Cameron Nizialek gave the Bucs the ball at the Atlanta 43.
Tampa Bay's offense then woke up, taking only three plays to travel those yards, as Brady threw his fifth touchdown, a 12-yarder, to Chris Godwin.
And on the next Falcons' drive, Mike Edwards stepped in front of a Ryan pass and brought it to the house for a 34-yard pick-six that extended the lead to 41-25 after Ryan Succop's extra-point attempt slammed off the left upright.
The Falcons' last legitimate chance came on a fourth-and-2 from their own 43; Matt Ryan had to rush an incompletion as Devin White supplied pressure up the middle.
Edwards' second pick-six came on a Ryan pass deflected at the line by Carlton Davis, which put the game away.
Up next for Tampa Bay is a showdown with the preseason NFC title contender Los Angeles Rams. We'll have Countdown to kickoff starting at 2 p.m. with Tom Krasniqi and Michael Clayton on 95.3 WDAE. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.
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