Jones, Falcons Snap Bucs' Win Streak
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 27 November 2017|
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the last game they ever played in the Georgia Dome. Their first trip to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium didn't go as well. The Buccaneers lost a 34-20 Week 12 decision to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, as WR Julio Jones had one of the most dominant games of his impressive career, catching 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
That Buccaneer loss came six days after the Falcons' former home was imploded to a pile of rubble right next to their new one; Sunday's loss may have had the same effect on Tampa Bay's playoff hopes. The Buccaneers now stand at 4-7, three games behind the 7-4 Falcons in the Wild Card race with five games to play.
The Bucs do have three division games remaining, as well as matchups with possible Wild Card contenders Detroit and Green Bay, but Atlanta ended Tampa Bay's encouraging two-game winning streak before it could really build some momentum. The Buccaneers will continue to battle for five more weeks, as they did in the second half on Sunday.
"I think we have a lot of professionals in this locker room," said QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who made his third start in place of the injured Jameis Winston. "We're not going to give up. We're out there playing, we're out there fighting. I enjoy playing with these guys."
As has been the case on several occasions this season, the Buccaneers fought to the end after falling behind big. In this case, Tevin Coleman's two-yard touchdown run to start the second half gave Atlanta a 27-6 lead but the Buccaneers followed with two long touchdown drives to make it a one-score game with most of the fourth quarter to play. Tampa Bay then forced the game's first turnover inside its own 10-yard line Kendell Beckwith forced Terron Ward to fumble and Brent Grimes recovered and drove deep into Atlanta territory to come within striking range of tying it up with about half of the fourth quarter left.
"They did a good job of that," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter of the Bucs' second-half fight. "There were some scary moments there late in the second quarter, early in the third quarter you talk about continuing to play. We did a good job of that today and we did a good job of battling back and giving ourselves a chance to tie it up there with about seven minutes to go."
However, after a third-and-two pass to Adam Humphries gained just one yard the Buccaneers elected to go for it from the Atlanta 18 on fourth-and-one. Fitzpatrick tried to hit TE Cameron Brate inside the five-yard line in between several defenders, and safety Keanu Neal was able to break it up. The Bucs didn't get the ball back until after Coleman had scored another touchdown to make it a two-score game.
"I told the players, I should have given them a better play," said Koetter. "It didn't work, so that's on me. We had momentum at that time. We were playing pretty good on offense, we were moving the football. We made the decision on third down that if we didn't get it we'd go for it on fourth. You've got three or four plays on your sheet for that situation and I picked the wrong one."
Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 44 passes for 283 yards and did not turn the ball over for a second consecutive week. The Bucs settled for two field goals in the first half but found their rhythm after halftime. However, their final shot at scoring died on the fourth-down play, which Fitzpatrick said was a good play call after the game.
"We just played a little bit better offensively climbing back to 27-20, our defense coming up with that turnover, and then obviously the fourth-and-one there," he said. "Weve got to be able to convert that. As the quarterback and as the guy that had the ball in his hand and made the decision, I've got to do a better job of that on fourth-and-one and getting it no matter what."
Buccaneers running back Doug Martin got off to a good start with 27 yards on the Bucs' game-opening field goal drive, but he missed the second half due to a concussion and Tampa Bay's rushing attack had another sub-100-yard day. The Buccaneers ran 23 times for 94 times, compared to 148 on 28 carries for the Falcons. Second-year RB Peyton Barber did succeed as a weapon near the goal line, scoring on a two-yard run around end and a one-yard dive over the top.
The teams played to a 3-3 tie in the first quarter, and then Jones took over. He had 153 combined rushing and receiving yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter alone, one on a 51-yard pass from fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu out of a Wildcat snap.
Jones came into the game with just one touchdown and an average of 78.6 yards per game that was well below his career average but he repeatedly got open for intermediate-range passes, with seven grabs of 20 or more yards. He is the first player ever to surpass 200 receiving yards in a game against the Buccaneers. "We tried rolling coverage to him, we tried pressing him and we didn't have an answer for him today," said Koetter.
The Buccaneers took the opening possession 57 yards on 10 plays to open the scoring. DeSean Jackson made a fine catch of a pass thrown behind him for 15 yards to start the drive, and Martin ran four times for 27 yards. Fitzpatrick threw a touch pass to Evans in the back left corner of the end zone on third down from the Atlanta 18, but Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant made a superb play to tip it away at the last second.
The Falcons answered with a 13-play, 44-yard field goal drive on the next possession. Ryan converted a third-and-seven in Bucs territory after missing on a deep pass to Julio Jones, but a holding penalty and a tackle for loss by Justin Evans put the Falcons into third-and-15. Ryan hit Gabriel over the middle on third down but a hard and immediate hit by Evans stopped him short of the sticks. Matt Bryant came on to hit a 49-yarder between the pipes.
Each team ended its next drive with a punt, though the Falcons got a 20-yard run from Coleman to get close to midfield. Evans was there once again to end the drive, breaking up a pass intended for TE Austin Hooper on third-and-eight. The punt went into the end zone for a touchback, bringing the first quarter to an end.
The Bucs punted again but Andre Roberts got around the end for an 18-yard return back to Atlanta's 40. The Falcons took the lead on the ensuing drive thanks to a trick play. On third-and-one from the 49, Atlanta lined up in a Wildcat formation with Sanu in shotgun. Sanu faked a handoff to Ward and then threw deep down the middle to Jones. Evans had good coverage on Jones but the receiver found the ball and adjusted to it, catching it as he slid across the goal line.
A first-down holding call proved too much to overcome on Tampa Bay's next possession, and the Falcons got the ball back at their own 28. Jones immediately got them into Buccaneer territory with a dazzling sideline grab for 20 yards and a 15-yard end-around. Four plays later, Jones caught a 25-yard TD pass after cornerback Ryan Smith slipped, with the receiver diving to touch the left front pylon with the football.
The Bucs did counter with a score on their next drive but had to settle for three points after the drive stalled at the Falcons' nine. Mike Evans started it with a 16-yard catch-and-run but he absorbed a hard hit in the end zone trying to make a third-and-goal catch just before the field goal. Jackson twice converted third-and-eight situations with sharp comebackers, and he also drew a critical pass-interference flag to get the team into scoring range.
Tampa Bay's field goal came with a minute-and-a-half left in the half, which was too much time, as Atlanta quickly mounted a matching field goal drive. Jones caught a 22-yarder on the right sideline and made it first-and-10 at the 18 with a catch over the middle. After a spike to stop the clock with 10 seconds left, the Falcons took one shot at the end zone but an all-out Buc blitz helped force an incompletion. Bryant came on to hit a 36-yard field goal to restore the Falcons' two-touchdown lead.
Atlanta also started the second half with a swift and effective drive, marching down the field to to set up Coleman's three-yard touchdown run. Jones had a 23-yard catch to start the drive and Sanu and TE Austin Hooper added 25 and 20-yarders, respectively.
The Buccaneers matched those seven points with a 10-play, 75-yard hike on the next possession. Evans caught a 20-yard pass to start it and drew a key holding flag to make it first down at midfield. Rookies Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard each had 17-yard catches in Atlanta territory, the latter one make it first-and-goal at the two. Barber took the snap on the next play and bounced outside to run into the end zone untouched.
Tampa Bay's defense got a much-needed stop near midfield and the offense started at its own 20 after a touchback on the punt. Fitzpatrick hit Howard on a beautiful pass down the middle for a gain of 29 yards and later scrambled up the middle for a first down deep in Atlanta territory. After a Charles Sims catch made it first-and-goal at the two, Barber ran left once for one yard and then dived over the top on second down for the score.
The Falcons threatened to restore their two-score lead after Jones' 44-yard catch and run kick-started a drive that got deep into Buccaneer territory. However, Beckwith forced Ward to fumble as Ward was nearing the end zone on a run up the middle and Grimes scooped it up and dashed 37 yards to the Bucs' 42. Fitzpatrick converted a third-and-11 with a precision 13-yard sideline pass to Evans between two defenders, but the Bucs soon faced a third-and-two at the Atlanta 19. After an Adam Humphries catch gained just one, Fitzpatrick tried to hit Brate inside the five-yard line and it was broken up by Keanu Neal.