Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2021 Game Preview: Buccaneers-Falcons, Week 13

The Buccaneers will begin their stretch run with the first of four upcoming games against NFC South opponents, heading to Atlanta to face a Falcons team that is still alive in the conference playoff chase

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The NFL's playoff stretch run has begun in earnest, and Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons has real postseason implications for both teams, albeit of different sorts. The Buccaneers have a solid three-game lead over Atlanta (and New Orleans) in the NFC South and are chasing one of the top seeds in the NFC. And the Falcons, despite a 5-6 record and a -103 scoring differential are very much alive in the Wild Card race. Contests between the Buccaneers and Falcons tend to get pretty intense, and this one will not be lacking for motivation on both sides.

The Buccaneers will be looking for a second consecutive season sweep of the Falcons – something they've never done before – and will also be trying to get over .500 on the road after an uplifting win in Indianapolis last Sunday. The Falcons will be looking to avenge a Week Two loss in Tampa and get just their second home win of the season. Atlanta also has little margin for error in that playoff hunt, given that there are a whopping seven teams with five or six wins in the NFC and the Falcons have a troublesome 2-5 record against conference opponents.

Last year, the Buccaneers beat the Falcons twice in a span of three weeks in December and January. As the 2021 season moves into December, the Bucs are trying to find the next level like they did in 2020 when they won their final eight games on the way to the Super Bowl LV championship. The Bucs memorably won three playoff road games before coming home for the Super Bowl but their goal this year is to win a division title for the first time in 13 years and get one or two games at home to start the postseason. That will require a similar sort of power-up down the stretch because the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals and the 9-3 Green Bay Packers can be expected to finish strong as well.

The Falcons are in their first season under Head Coach Arthur Smith and can fairly be considered a team in transition after three straight losing campaigns led to the dismissal of Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff. Atlanta's five wins have all come against teams that currently have winning records and four of their six losses have been by 20 points or more.

And yet the Falcons surely consider themselves contenders rather than rebuilders and are not a team the Buccaneers will be taking lightly. Quarterback Matt Ryan has played well against the Buccaneers historically and has 16 wins under his belt in the rivalry. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts has emerged as the leading pass-catcher for Ryan in the absence of star wideout Calvin Ridley, who has stepped away from the team to focus on his mental wellbeing. And running back Cordarrelle Patterson has proved to be a huge find for the Falcons as he has put up career numbers as both a runner and a pass-catcher. When the Bucs and Falcons met in Week Two, Ryan threw for 300 yards, Pitts had five catches for 73 yards in just his second NFL game and Patterson scored on both the ground and through the air.

The Falcons' defense has had trouble getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is an issue the team has been trying to fix for several seasons. However, the playmaking off-ball linebacker duo of Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun makes the middle of the field a danger zone for opposing offenses and second-year man A.J. Terrell is rapidly developing into a top-notch shutdown corner. Dante Fowler does have 1.5 sacks in Atlanta's last two games, and he dropped Tom Brady once, hit him twice and forced a fumble at Raymond James Stadium in Week Two.

The Buccaneers and Falcons have long been rivals, even before they were paired up in the newly-created NFC South in 2002. The two teams have met 56 times and have split that series right down the middle. Though the Bucs got the sweep and the Lombardi Trophy last year while the Falcons finished 4-12, both of their two late-season matchups were very competitive, and the Bucs had to mount a huge second-half comeback to escape with a win in their last visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tampa Bay hasn't held Atlanta below 27 points in any of the last four meetings and may to have approach their league-best 31.5 points per game in order to get a fourth straight win in the series and a big boost to their playoff hopes on Sunday.

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (5-6)

Sunday, December 5, 1:00 p.m. ET

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity: 71,000)

Atlanta, Georgia

Television: FOX

TV Broadcast Team: Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Jonathan Vilma (analyst), Sarah Walsh (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The lead in the all-time Bucs-Falcons series has changed hands seven times throughout the years and that could be eight if Tampa Bay wins on Sunday. As just noted above, that series is currently even, 28-28, after the Buccaneers win in Tampa in Week Two. The Bucs are also looking for their longest winning streak in the series since they took six straight contests from 1997-2003.

The Buccaneers had a 24-22 advantage in the series as recently as 2016 but Atlanta then reeled off five straight victories in a streak that included sweeps in 2017 and 2018. Tampa Bay has won four of the last five to knot things back up. This is the 13th time that series has been tied up. Tampa Bay does have the all-time scoring advantage, having scored 1,293 points in those 56 games against Atlanta while allowing 1,224.

Tampa Bay padded its point total by 123 points in the span of five regular-season weeks spanning the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Most recently, the Buccaneers rode five Tom Brady touchdown passes and two pick-sixes by Mike Edwards to a 48-25 win on September 19. Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski each found the end zone twice and a blitzing Devin White hit Matt Ryan three times to help produce a trio of turnovers. Late last season, the Bucs won, 31-27, at Atlanta in Week 15 and then took the rematch in Tampa by a 44-27 margin. The first win required a wild comeback after the Falcons raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead, with Tom Brady throwing for 330 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. The second game at Raymond James Stadium was less stressful, as the Buccaneers led from wire to wire but included another huge day by Brady, who threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

The Buccaneers came close to taking both halves of the series in 2019, winning by a 35-22 score in Atlanta and taking a 22-16 lead into the fourth quarter in the Week 17 rematch in Tampa. However, Matt Ryan led a game-tying drive in the final three minutes of that contest, leading to Younghoe Koo's 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. The Buccaneers won the overtime coin toss but lost the game on the first play of the extra period, as Jameis Winston's last pass for Tampa Bay was picked off and returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Deion Jones.

Both of the games in 2018 went down to the wire, neither ending well for the Buccaneers. In Week Six in Atlanta, Tampa Bay rallied from a 15-point deficit to make it a 31-29 game with four minutes to play on Peyton Barber's five-yard touchdown catch. The Falcons then tacked on a field goal to make it a five-point game with just over a minute to play but Winston got the visitors back into scoring range with consecutive completions of 18, 18 and 19 yards to DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Adam Humphries. With seven seconds left and the ball at Atlanta's 21, the Bucs tried a tricky play in which Winston began to scramble up the middle and then suddenly attempted a lateral to Humphries. The ball ended up on the turf before Evans scooped it up and got a one-hopper off to Jackson, who appeared to have a path to the end zone pylon along the left sideline. However, Jackson couldn't haul it in and time expired on a 34-29 Falcons victory.

In the Week 17 rematch, at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs gave up a 10-point halftime lead and fell behind by 11 in the fourth quarter before once again rallying, this time taking the lead with five minutes to play on a 19-yard Chris Godwin touchdown catch. That was too much time to leave Ryan, however, and he hit Jones on a pair of 16-yard passes to get the ball into field goal range. Matt Bryant won it as time expired with a 37-yarder.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

  • Keith Armstrong, the Buccaneers' special teams coordinator, filled the same role in Atlanta for more than a decade (2008-19). He was also on the Falcons' coaching staff from 1994-96, coaching safeties and the secondary.
  •  Falcons Secondary Coach Jon Hoke tutored the Buccaneers' defensive backs during the 2016-18 seasons.
  • Tampa Bay Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich saw action for both team's in Sunday's matchup during his 10-year playing career. He was with Atlanta in 2007, making two starts, and with the Buccaneers in 2009, starting the first three games of the season.
  • Buccaneers Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross also spent a small portion of his long NFL playing career in Atlanta, joining the Falcons in 1994 after 11 years with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ross played two seasons in Atlanta before finishing his playing career with one year in San Diego and one more back with the Chiefs.
  • Keith Tandy, who joined the Buccaneers' coaching staff last year as a defensive/special teams assistant, wrapped up his NFL playing career with one season (2018) in Atlanta after six years on the field for Tampa Bay.
  • Danny Breyer, now an offensive assistant on Arthur Smith's staff, was on the Buccaneers' coaching staff in 2017 and 2018, first as an analytics assistant and then as a defensive assistant.
  • Atlanta outside linebacker Steven Means (currently on injured reserve) first entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick by the Buccaneers in the 2013 draft. Means played 11 games for Tampa Bay in the 2013-14 seasons.
  • Falcons backup quarterback Josh Rosen spent most of the 2020 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

Tampa Bay:

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians
  • Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
  • Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
  • Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

·    Atlanta:

  • Head Coach Arthur Smith
  • Offensive Coordinator Dave Ragone
  • Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
  • Special Teams Coordinator Marquice Williams

KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

Falcons:

  • RB Mike Davis (UFA)
  • RB Wayne Gallman (FA)
  • S Richie Grant (second-round draft pick)
  • S Duron Harmon (UFA)
  • S Erik Harris (UFA)
  • OL Jalen Mayfield (third-round pick)
  • CB Fabian Moreau (UFA)
  • P Thomas Morstead (FA)
  • RB Cordarrelle Patterson (UFA)
  • TE Kyle Pitts (first-round draft pick)
  • QB Josh Rosen (FA)
  • WR Tajae Sharpe (FA)
  • TE Lee Smith (T-BUF)
  •  T Jason Spriggs (FA)

ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

  • While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
  • After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
  • The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.

Falcons:

  • Atlanta is starting over with a new coaching staff in 2021 after letting Dan Quinn go last November. Now at the helm is Arthur Smith, the former offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Smith brought in Dave Ragone as his offensive coordinator and coaxed Dean Pees out of a brief retirement to run the defense.
  • The Falcons revamped their football leadership overall, also moving on from long-time General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, who had been in control of the roster since 2008. Replacing Dimitroff is another familiar figure in the NFC South, former Saints executive Terry Fontenot. Fontenot was with the Saints for nearly two decades and in 2020 had been promoted to assistant general manager & vice president of pro personnel.
  • Another Falcon era ended during the offseason when wide receiver Julio Jones was traded to the Titans in June. A first-round pick in 2011, Jones played a full decade in Atlanta and left as the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 848 catches for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns.
  • Without much room to work with under the COVID-suppressed salary cap, the Falcons let Alex Mack, the anchor of their offensive line the last five seasons, exit via free agency. Mack joined the 49ers and Matt Hennessy, a third-round pick in 2020, has taken over as the starting center.

TOP STORYLINES

Forefront Lenny? – Leonard Fournette is good at collecting nicknames that end in the word 'Lenny' – most recently bestowed with a new one by Rob Gronkowski – but he's also been collecting more and more touches in the Buccaneers' offense as the season has progressed. He's had double-digit carries in seven of the Bucs' last eight outings and has been targeted in the passing game at least five times in each of those eight game. In Tampa Bay's Week 12 win at Indianapolis, he and Gronkowski accounted for 254 of the team's 359 total yards. On the team's game-winning drive, he had the ball in his hands on four of the eight plays and produced 60 of the 75 yards needed to get the victorious touchdown. As opposing defenses have increasingly chosen to play two deep safeties, utilize soft zones and concentrate heavily on stopping Mike Evans, the Bucs have found a lot of success running Fournette into light boxes and getting him out into the flat on quick throws. As Fournette noted after his four-touchdown game on Sunday, he can tell that the Tom Brady and the Buccaneers' coaches have come to trust him as a player who should get the football a lot. Said Fournette: "Definitely means a lot, but you have to earn it too. That's during reps in practice, going over after practice with Tom (Brady), running routes that we're trying to perfect. Make sure he's comfortable throwing us the ball. Trusting us. That's what it's all about."

The Many Cordarrelles – Ninth-year player had already emerged – rather stunningly – as one of the NFL's most versatile and productive players in 2021, and that was before he played a snap at safety for Atlanta's defense last Sunday in Jacksonville. Patterson is actually lobbying for more playing time on defense and the Falcons' coaches haven't completely dismissed the idea. Of course, Patterson to contribute on that side of the ball to be one of the team's most important players. His work in both the ground game and the aerial attack has already made him a critical part of Atlanta's chances for success. When he missed a Week 11 game against New England due to an ankle injury the Falcons didn't score and produced 165 total yards of offense. Patterson came back last week looking as good as new and immediately ripped off a 100-yard rushing game and two touchdowns. The former Viking, Raider, Patriot and Bear has finally found a coaching staff that has figured out how to unlock his talents and he already has recorded new career highs in rushing yards (411), receiving yards (500) and touchdowns (nine). The Falcons are equally likely to line him up in the backfield as a traditional tailback or on the edges as a traditional receiver. And lest we forget, Patterson might also be one of the two or three best kickoff return men in NFL history. Atlanta's coaches took him off that job last week since he was coming back from injury but surely wouldn't hesitate to put him back there again if they needed a spark. The Buccaneers were so concerned about Patterson taking kickoffs out from deep in the end zone in Week Two that they had Bradley Pinion, usually a touchback machine, pooch the majority of his kickoffs short to Avery Williams instead.

Another Week, Another Uncertain Corner – The Buccaneers haven't had their intended starting trio of cornerbacks on the field together since the first quarter of the season's opening game, and that could continue into Week 13. Sean Murphy-Bunting has recently returned from injured reserve to his starting spot but Carlton Davis remains on injured reserve and Jamel Dean left last Sunday's game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. The team is hoping that Davis can be activated from IR in time to play in Atlanta, and that would be particularly helpful if Dean has to miss some time. Both Davis and Dean have been on the practice field this week but Dean is wearing a special black jersey to mark him as a no-contact player. Tampa Bay has given more than 100 defensive snaps to seven different cornerbacks so far this season, and that doesn't include safety Mike Edwards, who has been taking most of the snaps at nickel corner in recent weeks. Players like Pierre Desir, Dee Delaney, Ross Cockrell, Richard Sherman (currently on IR) and Edwards have helped the Buccaneers weather the seemingly endless storm of cornerback injuries, but the defense still ranks 20th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. A return to the team's opening-day lineup at cornerback, whether it happens this week or a little later in the season, might allow the secondary to catch fire as it did down the stretch in 2020.

The Quest for the Only Bye – As was mentioned at the top, the Buccaneers are set for a fierce six-week battle with the Cardinals and Packers to claim the only NFC first-round bye in the NFL's new playoff format. Dallas has fallen a bit off the pace with three losses in their last four games; while they could still get back into the fight for the top seed they will likely have trouble leap-frogging all three of the teams in front of them. Meanwhile, Arizona (9-2), Green Bay (9-3) and Tampa Bay (8-3) are all huddled within a game of each other, with the Packers carrying around a head-to-head win over the Cardinals in their back pocket. The Buccaneers will play neither of those teams in the regular season, which means the most likely factor to break any ties in the final conference standings will be the teams' respective records against NFC opponents. There, too, Green Bay has a clear lead with a 7-2 mark in conference games, compared to 5-2 for the Cardinals and 5-3 for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has already played three of its five scheduled games against AFC teams – the fourth is next week's visit from the Buffalo Bills and the fifth is against the Jets in Week 17 – and thus has a chance to build up its NFC record over the last month and a half. All of their remaining NFC games are against division foes, beginning with Atlanta on Sunday. All three of those teams currently have losing records, though the Saints already have a win over the Buccaneers. Said Bruce Arians of this week's game: "It's a division game on the road and those are huge. You win division games on the road, they pay off for you."

Can the Bucs Get a Fast Start on the Road? – The Bucs got their third road win last Sunday against a red-hot Colts team in a very loud Lucas Oil Stadium, but they had to come back from a 10-point halftime deficit to do so. Players and coaches had identified the need to get off to faster starts in road games if they were to improve their record away from home, but the Bucs' offense produced just 50 yards, two first downs and no points in the first quarter in Indianapolis. Turnovers fueled the Bucs' comeback against the Colts but the team can't count on taking the ball away every time it falls into a hole on the scoreboard. Therefore, the goal this week is the same as it was last week: Get off to a fast start, keep the home team from gaining momentum and take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. The Bucs have repeatedly shown they can start fast at home. In five home contests so far Tampa Bay has scored 49 first-quarter points and 118 first-half points. In six road games, the team has scored 24 first-quarter points and 61 first-half points. Also, the Bucs have turned the ball over seven times over their last three road games combined, and a Chris Godwin fumble in the first quarter negated their only early scoring threat in Indy. The Buccaneers scored 21 first-half points against the Falcons when they visited Raymond James Stadium in Week Two. Can they do something similar this Sunday without the comforts of home?

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Falcons CB Fabian Moreau

Second-year cornerback A.J. Terrell has turned into something of a lockdown corner for the Falcons in 2021; according to NFL Next Gen Stats he has allowed only 17 receptions for 114 yards and a passer rating of 47.9 when he was the closest defender on a pass. Terrell plays almost exclusively on the left side of the Falcons' defense (to the quarterback's right), so if he is as effective this Sunday Tom Brady may be looking to his left a lot. There he will find Fabian Moreau, who signed with Atlanta this offseason after four years of intermittent starting in Washington. When Moreau has been the nearest defender on passes by Falcons opponents, the pass-catchers have recorded 36 receptions for 398 yards, five touchdowns and a passer rating of 111.1. Mike Evans lines up on both sides of the offense from time to time, of course, but he has been split wide to the left about twice as often as he's been split wide to the right. Unless the Falcons change their approach and shadow Evans with Terrell, there should be a lot of individual matchups featuring Evans and Moreau. The Buccaneers haven't gone vertical in the passing game particularly often in recent games because their opponents have employed a lot of two-safety shells and soft zones that encourage more underneath throws. That has largely worked for the Bucs, too, but at some point, given Bruce Arians' 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy, they will be trying to hit some deep shots, and Evans is one of the best deep threats in the entire NFL. On go routes since the start of the 2018 season, he ranks first in the NFL in targets (98), receptions (42), yards (1,189) and touchdowns (17).

2. Falcons G Jalen Mayfield vs. Buccaneers DL Vita Vea

The Falcons drafted Michigan's Jalen Mayfield in the third round this past April and originally had him slated to start his rookie season as a reserve. However, a hand fracture suffered by veteran Josh Andrews opened the door for Mayfield to start at left guard and he has held down that position for the balance of the season so far. In fact, while Atlanta has recently started splitting snaps at center between Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman, Mayfield has taken every offensive snap for the last 10 games in a row. Mayfield has helped Atlanta's line provide good protection to Matt Ryan, who has only been sacked on 5.36% of his dropbacks. That's the 10th-best mark in the NFL. However, the Falcon rushing attack has struggled, ranking 30th in the NFL in both yards per game and yards per carry. Mayfield will have his hands full on Sunday with a very strong Buccaneers' defensive front, including Will Gholston, Ndamukong Suh, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon. Perhaps the strongest of that group – and certainly the biggest – is the 347-pound Vita Vea. Vea's relatively modest pass-rush numbers this year (1.0 sack and six quarterback hits) do not adequately portray how much of a game-wrecker he can be, particularly if he is able to consistently overpower the guard or center in front of him. According to Next Gen Stats, Vea does have 17 quarterback pressures, and the Bucs' sack rate jumps from 4.2% when he's not on the field to 6.9% when he is. The Buccaneers also allow roughly one fewer yard per carry when Vea is in the mix.

3. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Falcons OLB Dante Fowler

At practice on Wednesday, with a group of media members just a few yards away, multiple offensive linemen began loudly stumping for Donovan Smith to get the first Pro Bowl nomination of his career. Both of Tampa Bay's offensive tackles, Smith and Tristan Wirfs, have had outstanding seasons and have helped Tom Brady enjoy the lowest team sack rate (3.22%) in the entire NFL. Smith has long been underappreciated but the Buccaneers know how important his performance is to the NFL's highest-scoring offense. On Sunday, Tampa Bay's line will face an Atlanta pass rush that has produced the league's lowest sack rate (3.93%), which looks like an area of the game in which the visitors have a clear edge. However, outside linebacker Dante Fowler does have 1.5 sacks in the Falcons' last two games and he got Brady down once in the Week Two meeting between these two teams. Overall, Smith and his linemates held Fowler mostly in check in that game, though, as the Falcon edge rusher had just two pressures on 27 pass-rush snaps, including none in the second half. The third-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Fowler has produced just 6.5 sacks in 22 games as a Falcon over the past two seasons, but he did have an 11.5-sack campaign for the Rams in 2019 and an eight-sack season in Jacksonville in 2017. Fowler went so high in the 2016 draft because he checked off all the boxes for a dominant edge rusher: He has a fast get-off, he can win with power, he plays with a high motor and he is very athletic.

4. Colts TE Kyle Pitts. vs. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Speaking of extremely high draft picks, the Falcons made Florida's Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history when they grabbed him with the fourth-overall pick in April. Few expect Pitts to be anything but a superstar in the NFL and he's off to a good start with a team-leading 45 catches for 661 yards. The rookie has only found the end zone once so far this year but has the size (6-6, 246), hops and athleticism to be a serious red zone threat. He had five catches for 73 yards against the Buccaneers in Week Two. The scariest thing about Pitts for opposing defenses is his speed and how quickly he can get down the seams and make plays downfield. His 14.7-yard per-catch average is second among all qualifying tight ends this season. Tight ends are often the responsibility of safeties in opposing defenses, particularly when they are working down the middle of the field, and the Buccaneer safety most likely to be in that position is second-year man Antoine Winfield, Jr. The 5-9 Winfield showed that he can win battles against pass-catchers of Pitts' size last Sunday when he made an acrobatic leaping interception over 6-4, 226-pound receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. Winfield has good instincts and recognition skills and plays with the savvy of a veteran far more advanced in age. With Julio Jones no longer in an Atlanta uniform and Calvin Ridley currently away from the team, Pitts is the primary concern for opposing defenses in the Falcons' passing attack.

INJURY REPORT

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

  • QB Tom Brady (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: Placed on reserve/suspended by commissioner list.
  • WR Jaelon Darden (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Out.
  • CB Jamel Dean (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S Mike Edwards (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: Placed on reserve/suspended by commissioner list.
  • DL Will Gholston (wrist) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • G Ali Marpet (abdomen) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • G Aaron Stinnie (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: Placed on injured reserve.
  • DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Vita Vea (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • ILB Devin White (quad) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S Jordan Whitehead (calf) – WEDS: NL; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.

Falcons:

  • DL Jonathan Bullard (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • LB Deion Jones (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Kendall Sheffield (hamstring) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

WEATHER FORECAST

Domed Stadium. Outside: Partly cloudy, high of 67, low of 51, 9% chance of rain, 59% humidity, winds out of the SE at 5-10 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: Tony Corrente (27th season, 24th as referee)

BETTING LINE

  • Favorite: Buccaneers (-11.0)
  • Over/Under: 50.0

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 83

Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 10

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 3,403

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 103.1

Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 621

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 67

Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 806

Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3

Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 7.5

Tackles: LB Devin White, 90

Falcons-

Points Scored: K Younghoe Koo, 65

Touchdowns: RB Cordarrelle Patterson, 9

Passing Yards: QB Matt Ryan, 2,617

Passer Rating: QB Matt Ryan, 89.1

Rushing Yards: RB Cordarrelle Patterson, 411

Receptions: TE Kyle Pitts, 45

Receiving Yards: TE Kyle Pitts, 661

Interceptions: S Jaylin Hawkins, 2

Sacks: OLB Dante Fowler, 3.5

Tackles: LB Foyesade Oluokun, 119

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: 1st (31.5 ppg)

Total Offense: 3rd (401.7 ypg)

Passing Offense: 1st (305.9 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 23rd (95.8 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 2nd (24.4)

Third-Down Pct.: 3rd (46.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.22%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (66.0%)

Scoring Defense: 16th (23.0 ppg)

Total Defense: 8th (328.5 ypg)

Passing Defense: 20th (247.5 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 1st (81.0 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-17th (20.8)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 21st (40.9%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 18th (6.18%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 15th (57.9%)

Turnover Margin: t-5th (+8)

Falcons-

Scoring Offense: 27th (18.1 ppg)

Total Offense: 26th (310.5 ypg)

Passing Offense: 19th (225.5 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 30th (85.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 28th (18.8)

Third-Down Pct.: 19th (38.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 10th (5.36%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 14th (60.6%)

Scoring Defense: 31st (27.5 ppg)

Total Defense: 22nd (361.8 ypg)

Passing Defense: 14th (236.9 ypg)

Rushing Defense: t-23rd (124.9 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 26th (22.3)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 30th (47.1%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 32nd (3.93%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 25th (65.9%)

Turnover Margin: t-27th (-7)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski has returned to the Bucs' lineup, which means he and Tom Brady have another chance to make NFL history. With the next scoring pass that Brady throws to Gronkowski, those two will Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the second-most touchdown connections in the regular season, with 89 each.
  • Tight end Cam Brate and wide receiver Chris Godwin are both sitting on exactly 30 touchdowns, tying for the sixth most in team annals. Either or both players could catch Kevin House (31) in second with just one more trip to the end zone. Brate's next touchdown would also tie House for third on the team's touchdown receptions list (one of Godwin's 30 scores was on a rush).
  •  Last Sunday, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett recorded two sacks to push his career total as a Buccaneer to 35.0, which moved him past Chidi Ahanotu and into sixth place on the team's all-time sack list. Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who is currently tied with Brad Culpepper for eighth on that list with 33.0 sacks, could also separate himself from Culpepper with one sack against Atlanta and leap over Ahanotu with two.
  • Quarterback Tom Brady has 30 touchdown passes through the Bucs' first 11 games. That's already the third-highest single-season total in franchise history. With four more, Brady would surpass Jameis Winston's 33-TD 2019 season for second place on the list. Brady owns the top spot with his 40 touchdown passes last season. Brady had thrown four or more touchdown passes in a game four times already this season.

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians on how the Bucs can improve their third-down defense: "The big thing is to get the secondary back and being able to mix up our coverages. When we're playing some man, we've gotten some sacks. If you're playing a ton of zone, pro quarterbacks have a chance to pick you apart pretty quick. We've got blitzers coming but they get the ball out of their hands too fast. Being able to mix it up."
  • RB Leonard Fournette on having a three-game lead in the NFC South with four upcoming games against division opponents: "We don't focus on that too much. We try to take it one game at a time. I believe all the rest of those things are going to take care of themselves. As far as the Bucs, our schedule is what we're focused on – game by game. Each opponent, we need to come out and beat them. The main focus is December football. We know how important this is as far as playoffs and having home-field advantage, so we're trying to figure that out."
  • DL Vita Vea on how the Bucs' defense can step up in the last stretch of the season: "We all have to step up as a collective group, as a whole. I think number one, communication when we're out there – just talking to each other. I think that should be the next step for us. That would be a big stride for us. [If] we continue to communicate and work together out there, then I think we'll be where we want to be when the time comes."
  • T Tristan Wirfs on the success the Buccaneers' offensive line is having this season: "I think a big thing for us has been everybody being on the same page. I think I've said that quite a bit [about] our whole offense really. We're having these meetings with Tom [Brady] just making sure everybody knows what each other is doing. Having 11 guys on the same page and knowing what the assignment is. I think offensive line-wise, we really want to run the football, establish the line of scrimmage when we do get the opportunity to run the ball and displacing our guys. I think that just helps us out."
  • DL Ndamukong Suh on if the importance of December games is heightened: "I think they're always heightened. The expectations for us are to go out there and win the division. That's the first step, especially getting into the playoffs. You do that and take care of business – you know that you're going to be at home for your first playoff game and go from there. Obviously, it helps when you get that done. Last year, we took a tougher road and that's the path that we put ourselves into by not taking care of business, so we're in a position where we can control our own destiny and we want it to remain that way."
  • Arians on the team's attitude this week after last week's big road win: "Same as last week – just come to work. Come to work. It's a division game on the road and those are huge. You win division games on the road, they pay off for you."

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