The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons have a long shared history that has often been contentious, even before they became division rivals 20 years ago, but rarely has it qualified as what it will be this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium: a battle for first place.
The Buccaneers have won two Super Bowls since the NFC South was formed and the Falcons were in the title game as recently as 2016 but the two franchises haven't often been simultaneous contenders. In the first 20 seasons of NFC South competition, Atlanta and Tampa Bay have only finished first and second in the division twice (2002 and 2016) and have only both made the playoffs in the same season once (2002).
That '02 campaign famously featured a Week 14 meeting between the Bucs and Falcons in Tampa that was so compelling – Michael Vick vs. Derrick Brooks and the league's best defense – it drew the NFL commissioner to town to observe it in person. The Buccaneers were tied for the NFL's best record and the Falcons hadn't lost a game in eight weeks; the game likely would determine who would win the division in its very first season of existence. As it turned out, Brooks and company would completely stifle the electric Vick and win handily, 34-10. The Buccaneers then went on to win the Super Bowl.
This Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium admittedly does not have that same amount of built-in drama, and this early in the season it's not yet certain whether it features one, two or no true NFC title contenders. The Buccaneers certainly were considered prime contenders before the season after Tom Brady elected to play another season, but consecutive losses to Green Bay and Kansas City have slowed them down after a 2-0 start to the season. The Falcons were largely believed to be in rebuild mode by outside observers before the season, with projected win totals of about six or seven games. However, they have already played four very tight games and come to Tampa with the exact opposite set of results so far, riding a two-game winning streak after two narrow losses to start the year.
However, the two teams got to this point, the simple fact is that, with identical 2-2 marks and both the Saints and Panthers floundering, Sunday's game is a battle for first place in the NFC South. The Buccaneers would see the win and the first-place spoils as a righting of the ship after the last two weeks, with one loss the product of a battered an anemic offense and the second the result of a defense that had no answers for the Chiefs' offense. Tampa Bay has yet to play the type of full game, with notable efficiency on both sides of the ball, that would truly validate them as a threat to get back to the Super Bowl. The Falcons could see the win and their place atop the division as proof that Arthur Smith's crew is arriving ahead of schedule and will be factors in the playoff race throughout the season.
Smith came on as the Falcons' new head coach in 2021 and, after one last season in Atlanta for Matt Ryan, has helped set a radical new course for the franchise. After Ryan was traded to the Colts in March, the team signed former second-overall pick Marcus Mariota – on the same day as the trade – and have since fashioned an offense that looks more like the power rushing attack Smith directed as the OC in Tennessee. After finishing no higher than 27th in the league in rushing every season from 2018-21, including a ranking of 31st last year, the Falcons are currently picking up 168.0 ground yards per game, fourth best in the NFL. The mobile Mariota has contributed to that, but Atlanta has also gotten 340 yards from the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson and 139 from rookie Tyler Allgeier; Patterson was just placed on injured reserve this week but the team has a temporary replacement in Caleb Huntley, who rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries last week. Meanwhile, the passing attack is generating just 181.0 yards per game and Mariota has a 3-4 TD-INT ratio through four games.
Atlanta's defense, which ranked 26th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed in 2021, is making progress a bit more slowly, currently standing at 25th in both categories in the young season. The pass rush has been an issue for several seasons but started the season with a four-sack effort against New Orleans. Superstar interior lineman Grady Jarrett often makes a huge impact on games without racking up big sack numbers, but he already has three QB takedowns this season. The Falcons imported quite a few players to try to bolster their defense in 2022, including inside linebacker Rashaan Evans, outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Mike Ford and second-round edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie. They join such holdovers as cornerback A.J. Terrell, safety Richie Grant and linebacker Mykal Walker to give coordinator Dean Pees the pieces to develop his group into a solid defense.
It's too early to know if the Falcons will continue to impose their will on the ground or make a steady progression on defense, just as it's too early to know if the Buccaneers' remade offensive line will jell or the a promising pass rush will start to deliver more pressure on defense. And it's too early to know if a Week Five battle for first place will prove very significant by December and January. Still, it's a rarity in what has been a long-standing rivalry, and that definitely adds intrigue to the Buccaneers' second divisional matchup of the season.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Atlanta Falcons (2-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)
Sunday, October 9, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 69,000)
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: Joe Davis (play-by-play), Dayrl Johnston (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
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ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
From 1977 through last season, Tampa Bay and Atlanta played each other 57 times, and while each team has had an occasional hot streak in the series, the head-to-head record has rarely strayed too far from dead even. In fact, when the Buccaneers defeated the Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 13 last December, completing a season sweep, it caused the series lead to change hands for the eighth time overall. The Buccaneers now have the upper hand, 28-27, having won four in a row and five of the last six.
The Bucs' consecutive sweeps in 2020 and 2021 created the team's longest winning streak in the series with Atlanta since 1997-2003, when Tampa Bay won six in a row. That streak bridged the Buccaneers switch from the old NFC Central to the new NFC South in 2002, which put Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the same division. Since the Bucs and Falcons became fellow South denizens, they have split 40 matchups directly down the middle.
The Bucs most recent wins in 2021 were both by double-digit margins. In Week at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers got five touchdown passes from Tom Brady, including two each to Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski – plus Mike Edwards' two fourth-quarter pick-sixes as an exclamation in a 48-25 victory. In the rematch in in Atlanta, Chris Godwin set a team single-game record with 15 catches and Gronkowski once again found the end zone twice in Tampa Bay's 13-point win. Russell Gage, who is now a Buccaneer, caught 11 passes for 130 yards for the Falcons.
Prior to retaking the series led last year ,the Buccaneers had been on top with a 24-22 advantage midway through the 2016 season before Atlanta reeled off five straight victories in a streak that included sweeps in 2017 and 2018. With at least 30 points scored in each of its last five victories while storming back to the top, Tampa Bay has increased its the all-time scoring advantage in the series, with 1,323 points in those 57 games compared to 1,241 for the Falcons.
In their run to the Super Bowl championship in 2020, the Buccaneers won eight straight spanning the regular season and the postseason, and they downed the Falcons twice in the final three weeks of the regular season, scoring a total of 75 points. Tampa Bay 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.
- 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.
- Wide receiver Russell Gage is in his first season as a Buccaneer after spending his first four seasons in Atlanta. The Falcons drafted Gage out of LSU in the sixth round in 2018, and over the next four years he appeared in 61 games with 21 starts and caught 193 passes for 2,065 yards and nine touchdowns.
- Meanwhile, punter Bradley Pinion is in his first season in Atlanta after playing the previous three in a Buccaneers uniform. Pinion played in 47 games for the Buccaneers, posting a gross punting average of 43.6 yards and also serving as one of the NFL's best kickoff specialists.
- 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 safety Keanu Neal started his career in Atlanta as a first-round pick (17th overall) in the 2016 draft out of the University of Florida. Neal played five seasons for the Falcons, making the Pro Bowl in 2017 but missing all but four games in 2018-19 due to injuries. He came to Tampa this season after one year with the Dallas Cowboys.
- Tampa Bay defensive lineman Deadrin Senat is also a former Falcons draft pick, as he was selected out of the University of South Florida in the third round in 2018. Senat played in 23 games over four seasons in Atlanta, 15 of which came in his rookie season, along with his two career starts.
- 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 a run game specialist 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.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- Head Coach Todd Bowles
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers
- Pass Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach Larry Foot
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Head Coach Arthur Smith
- Offensive Coordinator Dave Ragone
- Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
- Special Teams Coordinator Marquice Williams
KEY 2022 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- WR Cole Beasley (FA…currently on practice squad)
- P Jake Camarda (fourth-round draft pick)
- WR Russell Gage (UFA)
- G Luke Goedeke (second-round draft pick)
- DL Logan Hall (second-round draft pick)
- T Fred Johnson (FA)
- WR Julio Jones (FA)
- TE Ko Kieft (sixth-round draft pick)
- G Shaq Mason (trade–NE)
- CB Zyon McCollum (fifth-round draft pick)
- OLB Carl Nassib (FA)
- S Keanu Neal (UFA)
- TE Cade Otton (fourth-round draft pick)
- TE Kyle Rudolph (FA)
- S Logan Ryan (FA)
- RB Rachaad White (third-round draft pick)
- RB Tyler Allgeier (5th-round draft pick)
- ILB Troy Anderson (2nd-round draft pick)
- WR Dameire Byrd (UFA)
- OLB Lorenzo Carter (UFA)
- OLB Arnold Ebiketie (2nd-round draft pick)
- WR Brian Edwards (Trade – Las Vegas)
- ILB Rashaan Evans (UFA)
- TE Anthony Firkser (UFA)
- CB Mike Ford (UFA)
- CB Casey Hayward (UFA)
- T Germain Ifedi (UFA)
- WR Drake London (1st-round draft pick)
- OLB DeAngelo Malone (3rd-round draft pick)
- QB Marcus Mariota (UFA)
- S Dean Marlowe (UFA)
- P Bradley Pinion (FA)
- QB Desmond Ridder (3rd-round draft pick)
- G Elijah Wilkerson (UFA)
- RB Damien Williams (UFA…currently on injured reserve)
ADDITIONAL 2022 CHANGES OF NOTE
- While the Bucs continue to maintain enviable continuity on their coaching staff, there is a new person in the corner office. In March, Bruce Arians stepped down after three years as the head coach and took on a new role as a senior advisor to the general manager. Todd Bowles was promoted from defensive coordinator to take his place. Bowles previously served as the New York Jets' head coach from 2015-18 before rejoining Arians when the latter came on as the Buccaneers' head coach in 2019.
- With Bowles stepping up the Bucs needed a new defensive coordinator and they essentially named two of them. Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers added the title of Run Game Coordinator while Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote switched to inside linebackers and added the title of Pass Game Coordinator. They are in effect co-defensive coordinators. Bob Sanders joined the staff to take over for Foote in the outside linebackers room. Foote made his switch after Inside Linebackers Coach Mike Caldwell landed the defensive coordinator position in Jacksonville under new Head Coach Doug Pederson.
- The Buccaneers had two key players retire after the 2021 season, but only one of them stayed retired. While quarterback Tom Brady eventually elected to return 40 days after announcing he was stepping away from the game, his long-time buddy Rob Gronkowski walked away for good, leading to big changes in the Bucs' tight end room. While veteran Cam Brate returned, O.J. Howard left in free agency and the Buccaneers subsequently drafted Cade Otton and Ko Kieft and signed veteran Kyle Rudolph.
- Tampa Bay's defense also saw the departure of two front-seven stalwarts from the extremely successful 2020-21 seasons, as neither DL Ndamukong Suh nor OLB Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed. The team signed veteran standout Akiem Hicks and drafted Houston's Logan Hall 33rd overall to address depth up front and are relying on 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up on the edge.
- The Falcons brought an era to an end on March 21 when they traded long-time starting quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis for a third-round pick in 2022 draft. The third-overall pick in the 2008 draft, Ryan started 222 of a possible 225 games for Atlanta over the next 14 seasons, earning four Pro Bowl selections along the way. He was the NFL MVP in 2016, the same season he led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI. Ryan felt that his time in Atlanta had come to an end when the Falcons were one of several times that tried to trade for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. To fill their new vacancy under center the Falcons signed former second-overall pick Marcus Mariota – on the same day they traded Ryan – to start and drafted Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder in the third round as a developmental option.
- Atlanta let former Wide Receivers Coach Dave Brock go after the 2021 season and to fill that spot they shifted Passing Game Specialist T.J. Yates over to the receiver room. The team also added Mario Jeberaeel to the staff as an assistant offensive line coach, replacing Chandler Henley, who left for a spot on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Jeberaeel had come to team in 2021 as a diversity coaching intern. Other additions to the coaching staff included Steve Jackson (senior offensive assistant), Shawn Flaherty (football analyst), Nick Edwards (offensive assistant) and Steven King (diversity coaching intern).
- As recently as 2020 the Falcons' receiving corps was headlined by Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. However, after trading Jones to the Titans in the 2021 offseason, the Falcons saw Ridley step away from the team for much of last season to focus on his mental well-being. Ridley then drew a suspension for the entire 2022 season for betting on NFL games. Atlanta's receiving corps is now led by rookie Drake London, the eighth-overall pick in this year's draft.
- The Falcons started the season with one of their defensive centerpieces. Inside linebacker Deion Jones, who has started 83 games for the team, including 48 of a possible 49 over the past three seasons, began the campaign on injured reserve after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. With fellow off-ball linebacker Foyesade Oluokun moving on to Jacksonville in free agency, the Falcons have a new look in the middle of their defense with offseason acquisitions Rashaan Evans and Lorenzo Carter.
Getting Back on Track – The Buccaneers faced the NFL's toughest schedule through the first four weeks of the season, based on last year's standings, and started out strong by banking consecutive road wins in Dallas and New Orleans. However, the Bucs couldn't maintain that momentum upon returning home and, following consecutive losses to top contenders from Green Bay and Kansas City, have emerged from that first-quarter gauntlet with a mildly disappointing 2-2 record. Obviously, the Buccaneers don't want to finish their current three-game homestand without a win, or without the first-place standing in the division a victory on Sunday would give them, which gives their first of two games with Atlanta some added significance. The Bucs haven't lost three straight games at any point since the arrival of Tom Brady in 2020, postseason included. After their Week Five meeting with Atlanta, the Buccaneers will be on the road for two more weeks and will then face two more major tests at home from the Ravens and Rams. Though they are not looking for excuses, the Buccaneers did have to work through a long list of injuries to key players in Week Three and had their Week Four preparations dramatically changed by the arrival of Hurricane Ian in Florida. Whether those factors had anything to do with the outcomes against Green Bay and Kansas City, the Buccaneers are undeniable more comfortable heading into Week Five with a healthier roster and a return to normalcy in their schedule. "It's good to be back. Good to be back. Just this morning in team meetings I talked about, "Hey, let's get back in our routine, let's get back to the way we play, the way we prepare and try to get this 'W' this weekend."
Managing Mariota – As he is wont to do, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes hurt the Bucs with his legs on multiple occasions in Week Four, not only running four times for 34 yards and two first downs but also making several creative passes on the move, including a ridiculous, spinning two-yard flip to Clyde Edwards-Helaire for a touchdown. In Week Five, the Buccaneers' defense will have another opportunity to show it can contain a very mobile quarterback, as new Falcons starter Marcus Mariota is also very good on the move. Mariota has already run the ball 30 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns this season, and the offense is using the threat of his legs with a high number of RPO formation plays, which has helped a rushing attack averaging 168.0 yards per game. Todd Bowles' defense has had success against such an approach with mobile quarterbacks in the past, including both games against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles last year. Given that Mariota has thrown four interceptions and lost three fumbles through the first four games, the Buccaneers would prefer to keep him contained in the backfield as much as possible. Tampa Bay has only faced Mariota once before, and it was in his very first regular-season NFL game. That was the 2015 season opener pitting the first two picks in the draft (Jameis Winston and Mariota) against each other, and it was all Mariota and the Titans, who won 42-14. The Bucs hope to even their record against the now-Falcons quarterback on Sunday.
Room to Run? – The Buccaneers' offense finished their Week Four loss to Kansas City with a total of three rushing yards on six carries, the second lowest single-game total in franchise history. While those numbers aren't exactly misleading, they do deserve a little bit of context. By the time the Bucs called their third rushing play, they were already down 14-3, and it became 21-3 not long after. There wasn't much of an option to run with the Chiefs continuing to pile on the points, and when rookie RB Rachaad White got in the game in the second half and logged three carries, two were from the Kansas City two and one-yard lines. A one-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal is a great play, but it doesn't do much for the stats. Still, the overall numbers for the Bucs' rushing attack so far this season, even after a very productive start in Dallas in Week One, are not where the team would like them to be. Tampa Bay ranks 31st in rushing yards per game at 65.3 and 30th in yards per carry at 3.14. This week, the Bucs will face a Falcons defense that ranks 21st in both categories, at 126.3 and 4.90 respectively, so this could be an opportunity for a ground game turnaround. Leonard Fournette and rookie Rachaad White appear to be turning into a potentially dangerous tandem, and they did combine for 107 yards and a touchdown through the air, but the Bucs have not been able to fully unleash them yet.
Secondary Shakeup? – Tampa Bay's defense had to dip into its depth in the secondary in Week Four when safety Logan Ryan left in the first half with a foot injury and cornerback Carlton Davis was sidelined in the second half by a shoulder stinger. Though Ryan does not start in the team's base defense, he comes in for sub packages, with starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr. moving down into the slot. That means Ryan plays roughly 60-70% of the snaps in a typical game. When he left, former Falcon Keanu Neal took over his role and logged 46 defensive snaps. When Davis came out of the game, fourth-year corner Sean Murphy-Bunting came in for his first 22 plays on defense of the season, in the process snaring his eighth career interceptions (playoffs included). Davis practiced without limitations on Wednesday so it's likely he'll be back in his normal starting spot, but Murphy-Bunting still could find some more work this weekend. The most straightforward approach to filling in for a missing Ryan, should that be the case, would be to continue to play Neal in that role, and that might be particularly appealing against a Falcons team that is leaning heavily on its running game. However, another option would be to keep Winfield in a traditional safety role in all sub packages and use Murphy-Bunting in the slot, a job he has filled before. Even if the Bucs don't go that direction, they could try to find some more snaps for Murphy-Bunting after he came up big in his first stint of action this season.
Dynamic Duo Trending Up – Mike Evans and Chris Godwin returned from a suspension and a hamstring injury, respectively, in Week Four and a passing attack that had been generating 211.3 yards and one touchdown per game suddenly blew up for 385 and three against the Chiefs. It's not hard to connect the dots. The Bucs are much more difficult to defend with either Evans or Godwin in the mix, and when they're both on the field at the same time – as was the case for most of Sunday night's game – the results can be dramatic. Before he went on his suspension, Evans had been on the injury report due to a calf strain, but the unwanted rest in Week Three helped him heal and he has not been listed on the report in either of the past two weeks. He returned in Week Four to rack up eight catches, 103 yards and two touchdowns. Godwin does remain on the injury report this week but he spoke after practice on Wednesday about he is "getting there" in his return to peak form and felt fortunate to have gotten in an entire game against the Chiefs. He caught seven passes for 59 yards in his return and was, as usual, an important weapon over the middle for Tom Brady. If Evans and Godwin continue to progress, the Bucs' passing attack could start putting up big numbers again on a regular basis.
1. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Falcons CB Dee Alford
Chris Godwin's impressively fast return from a major knee injury suffered midway through last December hit a bit of a speed bump, as he pulled a hamstring before halftime in Dallas in Week One. After missing two games, Godwin returned to action and played a full contest in Week Four against Kansas City, and his importance to the Buccaneers' passing attack was immediately evident. Playing 83% of the snaps and operating mostly out of the slot, Godwin caught seven passes for 59 yards and was responsible for three of the team's season-high 23 passing first downs. Godwin is a handful in the slot because he not only runs many different types of routes with precision but he also has above-average size and strength for the position. Godwin can beat opposing defenders by creating quick separation or by relying on his physicality in tight quarters. With primary nickel back Isaiah Oliver starting the season on injured reserve, first-year player Dee Alford has had an opportunity to play after impressing the team with a very strong offseason and training camp. The 5-11, 175-pound corner played in just four games with 66 defensive snaps last year but is getting regular playing time with Oliver out and already has one of Atlanta's four interceptions. Alford, a Georgia native who grew up a Buccaneers fan, took a circuitous route to the NFL, from Division II Tusculum University to a stint in the CFL, but he made so many splash plays in training camp this year that the Falcons couldn't keep him off the field.
2. Falcons DT Grady Jarrett vs. Buccaneers G Luke Goedeke
Jarrett most recently made the Pro Bowl in 2020, after a season in which he recorded four sacks. Voters were able to overlook that underwhelming total to see a player who makes a huge impact with his every-down high-intensity play and his ability to occupy blockers and stand up strong against the run game. However, it could be a high sack total that puts him back in the Pro Bowl this year after a one-year absence because he already has a team-high 3.5 of them. Jarrett has also logged nine quarterback pressures, eight hurries and two run stuffs. The 6-0, 305-pound lineman plays with a relentless motor and is a handful for any interior offensive lineman. His pre-snap location heat map on NFL Next Gen Stats shows that he lines up pretty equally all along that interior line, so both guards and the center should get a heavy dose of him Sunday, possibly working together on double teams on occasion. Goedeke, a second-round draft pick who played right tackle in college has stepped right into the starting lineup at left guard and has drawn praise from Head Coach Todd Bowles for his play. Goedeke definitely will be able to match Jarrett's intensity, and his commitment to film study should have him ready for the moves that Jarrett will try to use on him. It's a big early-career test for the rookie and the Bucs will be relying on him to keep Jarrett away from Tom Brady's pocket.
3. Buccaneers S Mike Edwards vs. Falcons QB Marcus Mariota
Fourth-year man Mike Edwards has thrived in his first shot at an every-down role in 2022, replacing the departed Jordan Whitehead and so far playing all but one defensive snap this season. Already a renowned ball hawk for his impressive career rate of picks per snaps played, Edwards has a pick-six this season and two passes defensed to go with his 34 tackles, which is just one off Devin White's team lead. Edwards has posted consecutive 13-tackle games heading into Week Five. Falcons QB Marcus Mariota has impressive mobility and has already run 30 times for 95 yards this season. It will be one of Edwards' tasks to figure out quickly if Mariota is intending to pass or run when the ball is in his hands, and if it's the latter to get up into mix as quickly as possible. Of course, Edwards also spends a lot of time as a centerfielder, which means he could be the last line of defense if Mariota tries to go deep to such big and physical potential field-stretchers as rookie WR Drake London and TE Kyle Pitts. Edwards also has a sack already this season, as Todd Bowles has utilized a wide variety of blitzes through the first four weeks. Edwards could be asked to invade the backfield at times again this Sunday, and if so that could result in another way that Edwards and Mariota go head to head.
4. Falcons WR Drake London vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
The eighth-overall pick in this year's draft, London has already established himself as the number-one option in Atlanta's passing attack. The 6-5, 210-pound USC product was billed as a contested-catch monster in the draft process but has displayed a complete game while catching 18 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories. London obviously has a size advantage on most NFL corners – though not too big of a one over Jamel Dean, the Buccaneers' 6-1, 206-pound corner – and he also is able to work both outside and in the slot. Though he doesn't possess absolute high-end speed he is able to produce big plays downfield and he can create space with tight cuts. London lines up more often on the left side of the Falcons' offensive formations (104 snaps out wide left to 63 out wide right, with the rest in the slot), which means he'll be frequently matched up with Dean, who is off to a fine start of his own. Dean has recorded 17 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions and four passes defensed through four games, leading the Buccaneers' defense in that last category. As noted, Dean has the size to not be muscled around by London, and he also has very good speed to match up on deep routes. The Falcons have focused more on the ground game so far this season but if the Buccaneers' defense can slow that down early Mariota will likely start looking for London and Dean will be tasked with keeping that connection from producing big plays.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/right finger) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP
- TE Cameron Brate (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- CB Carlton Davis (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: LP
- WR Russell Gage (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- WR Chris Godwin (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- DL Akiem Hicks (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- WR Julio Jones (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (illness) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
- WR Breshad Perriman (knee/hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- S Logan Ryan (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
- T Donovan Smith (elbow) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
- TE Kyle Pitts (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
Sunny along with a few afternoon clouds, high of 87, low of 68, 10% chance of rain, 65% humidity, winds out of the NE at 5-10 mph.
Head referee: Jerome Boger (19th season, 17th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-9.0)
· Over/Under: 47.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 34
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 3
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 1,058
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 97.7
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 224
Receptions: WR Russell Gage, 21
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 235
Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean, 2
Sacks: ILB Devin White, 3.0
Tackles: LB Devin White, 35
Points Scored: K Younghoe Koo, 39
Touchdowns: RB Cordarrelle Patterson, 3
Passing Yards: QB Marcus Mariota, 779
Passer Rating: QB Marcus Mariota, 76.9
Rushing Yards: RB Cordarrelle Patterson, 340
Receptions: WR Drake London, 18
Receiving Yards: WR Drake London, 231
Interceptions: CB Dee Alford/S Richie Grant/CB Casey Hayward/LB Mykal Walker, 1
Sacks: DT Grady Jarrett, 3.5
Tackles: LB Rashaan Evans, 35
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 16th (20.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 25th (317.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 11th (251.8 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 31st (65.3 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-20th (19.3)
Third-Down Pct.: 25th (34.6%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 9th (4.52%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-6th (66.7%)
Scoring Defense: 6th (17.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 8th (321.0 ypg)
Passing Defense: 14th (214.3 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 12th (106.8 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-4th (17.8)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 20th (41.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 6th (9.09%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-27th (72.7%)
Turnover Margin: t-4th (+3)
Scoring Offense: 8th (25.8 ppg)
Total Offense: 15th (349.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 29th (181.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 4th (168.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 10th (21.5)
Third-Down Pct.: 17th (38.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 20th (7.14%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-15th (56.3%)
Scoring Defense: 25th (25.3 ppg)
Total Defense: 25th (385.3 ypg)
Passing Defense: 25th (260.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 21st (126.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-24th (21.8)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 25th (44.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 23rd (5.37%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 19th (62.5%)
Turnover Margin: t-22nd (-1)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Tight End Cameron Brate has 33 career touchdown catches. His next one will tie him with Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles for second place in franchise history in receiving TDs and fourth place in overall touchdowns.
- WR Mike Evans scored two touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week Four to increase his career points scored total to 482, in the process passing Connor Barth (477) for third place on the Bucs' all-time list Evans needs three more touchdowns to join former kickers Martin Gramatica (592) and Michael Husted (502) as the only players in team history to reach the 500-point mark.
- DL Will Gholston played in his 140th game last Sunday, all with the Buccaneers. With one more game played he will take over 10th place on the franchise's all-time list, breaking out of a tie with Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp.
- Wide receiver Chris Godwin has 29 touchdown catches on his resume. Two more would move him into a tie with Kevin House for the fourth-most in team history. Godwin also has one career rushing touchdown and needs to find the end zone one more time to tie House for sixth place on the team's total touchdowns chart.
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin on C Robert Hainsey and G Luke Goedeke understanding the expectations of going up against some of the best players early on: "They've got to pick their games up – the expectations for the position. Luke is battling every week – I don't think Luke has had a week off yet. Every time he's been lined up, he's had a decent, Pro-Bowl type player standing over him – from Kenny Clark to last week to Chris Jones. He's going to get Grady [Jarrett] this week. Hainsey has done a nice job of replacing Ryan [Jensen] and I don't have time for you to tell me you're young. We've got a game to play and when the ball's put out there, we've got to play. We've got to execute and we all know that we've got to keep '12' (Tom Brady) upright."
- Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett on if it hurts losing the first two home games of the season: "It most definitely does, man. Being in front of the home crowd is supposed to do something to us – inspire us and make us come out there and play the way we're supposed to play but we fell short the last two games. I'm excited to be able to get back there and get things going the right way."
- Wide receiver Chris Godwin on the biggest challenge in facing the Falcons: "I think one of the biggest things is that they're playing with a lot of momentum right now. They won two straight and they've got a lot of talented guys over there – they've got a lot of talented young guys that are hungry. It'll be a challenge for us – add on top of that, it's a divisional opponent. I think everyone understands that we're all fighting for first place in the division and they're going to come here and give us their best shot."
- S Keanu Neal on facing a quarterback like Marcus Mariota: "He's mobile. He can move, he can run, he's a good thrower. He's a dual-threat quarterback. Going against those kinds of quarterbacks is always not the easiest, but if we do what we do we'll be fine."
- Goodwin on facing so many good defensive fronts to start off the season: "It's some of the best of the best – the Saints, you talk about Green Bay's front, talk about last week, Chris Jones and those guys up front. It's been tough, just seeing those guys, but it's also been good for us to have some tough opponents, some grimy opponents. We've got to fight tooth and nail to get the win and we've just got to continue trending in the right direction when we're playing these type of teams because every week is going to be a grimy match. This week, it's going to be a grimy match versus Grady [Jarrett] and the rest of his crew. But hopefully those first four weeks will teach us for the long run as far as the things we've got to do, the things we can't do, as far as us continuing to grow in the right direction offensively, defensively and on special teams."