By Leo Haggerty


After falling into a 17-0 halftime hole, Tampa Bay crawled all the way out and escaped Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 31-27 victory over Atlanta.  The Buccaneers improved to 9-5 to keep their faint National Football Conference South Division playoff hopes alive while the hard luck Falcons fell to 4-10 in the NFC South.

It was a tale of two halves and the first 30 minutes belonged to the Dirty Birds.  The Falcons took the opening kickoff and put points up on the board immediately at 10:34.  QB Matt Ryan (34-of-49 for 356 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs) found WR Russell Gage with a 5 yard scoring strike that culminated an eight play drive that took 4:26 to go 75 yards.  K Younghoo Koo converted the PAT and Atlanta had a 7-0 lead.

The Falcons padded their advantage at 7:48 of the second quarter.  Again, it was Ryan through the air and this time he found WR Calvin Ridley with a 12 yard aerial that took 5:10 to go 65 yards in 10 plays.  Koo was good again with the extra point and the Dirty Birds surged to a 14-0 count.

The home team struck again with just 15 ticks left in the opening half.  Koo ended a long 13 play drive that took 3:29 to go 75 yards with a 32 yards field goal.  That sent both teams to the locker room with the Bucs on the short end of a 17-0 score.

I have no idea what occurred at the intermission but the Buccaneers should bottle it because they were a different team in the second 30 minute stretch.  Tampa Bay took the the second half kickoff and finally dented the scoreboard at 11:28.  RB Leonard Fournette powered in from a yard out to finish off an 80 yard drive that took seven plays and 3:32 to complete.  K Ryan Succup split the uprights to cut the Falcons lead to 17-7.

Atlanta answered that score immediately with one of their own at 7:34 of the third quarter.  Ryan located TE Hayden Hurst over the middle for a seven yard score that traversed 75 yards in seven plays using 3:54 of clock time.  Koo kicked the extra point and the Falcons increased their margin to 24-7.

On their next possession, the Pewter Pirates put up more points one the board at 3:44 of the third period.  QB Tom Brady (31-of-45 for 390 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs) connected with WR Chris Godwin from four yards out.  That drive took 3:50 to traverse 75 yards in eight plays.  Succop was true again and the Bucs cut the lead to 24-14.

Tampa Bay wasn’t finished in the first 15 minutes after halftime and scored again with just 5 seconds left. It was Fournette again, this time from one yard away, that capped a seven play drive that went 48 yards and took 2:48 to complete.  Succup added the PAT and, all of a sudden, the Buccaneers only trailed 24-21.

The Bucs came all the way back at 11:15 of the final 15 minutes.  A nine play drive that went 42 yards in 3:15 concluded with a Succup yard field goal that knotted the score at 24 all.

Atlanta wasn’t dead and retook the lead at 8:22 of the fourth period.  Taking the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons took six plays to move 41 yards in 2:42 with Koo hitting a three pointer from 52 yards out.  That pushed the Dirty Birds back in front 27-24.

The Pewter Pirates finally got the lead at 6:19 of the fourth quarter with their next possession.  Brady located WR Antonio Brown on a deep go route down the left side for a 46 yard touchdown.  That took only four plays to travel 78 yards in 2:03.  Succop was good with the all important extra point putting the Bucs up 31-27.

The Buccaneers defense took over after that.  Tampa Bay stopped Atlanta on their next two possessions to secure the victory.

Honestly, this was the outcome that I expected but not the scenario.  If the Bucs believe they are going to make the playoffs, and make a deep run toward the Super Bowl, they must come to play for 60 minutes and not 30.  If they don’t, it’ll be a short stay in the post season if they make it that far.

The Bucs get to work on that when they travel to The Motor City to take on Detroit the day after Christmas.  The Saturday tilt at Ford Field is schedule for a 1 pm kickoff but that could be in jeopardy with a COVID outbreak hitting the Lions.

Look for Rob Kriete’s Buc Up column the day before the game.  Then, I’ll meet you at the TV to see if the Buccaneers can put together their first double digit winning season since, well, I’ll save that date for Rob to reveal.  Enjoy.