- QB Jameis Winston continues to rack up individual accolades**
Quarterback Jameis Winston had one of the best performances of his career on Monday night. He was poised, polished and finished 27 of 35 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. His 77.1 completion percentage was the highest of his career and his 130.5 passer rating was the second-best mark in his three years as an NFL quarterback. It was his eighth career game with three or more touchdowns, which is tied for most in franchise history. He also now has the fifth-most touchdown passes in franchise history in just his third year with the team. Coincidentally enough, Winston also just passed Atlanta's Matt Ryan for eighth-most touchdowns by an NFL player in his first three seasons with 67. To know just how good of a performance Winston had against the Falcons, head on over to Scott Smith's article here.
2. Though overwhelmingly injury-ridden, the Bucs put up a fight for all 60 minutes.
"I think it might have been the best team game we played. Talk about the next man up, I mean, good lord, we had so many injuries." Quarterback Jameis Winston was one of several coaches and players who commented on the fight the team showed on Monday night, battling through a plethora of injuries. At one point, there were as many as nine guys on the sidelines, of the 46 players the Bucs had activated for primetime. Injuries have plagued the Buccaneers all season and the absence of a bye week has not helped matters. Still, the team has been preaching that 'next man up' mentality all season. Week 15 was no exception. For instance, when tight end Cam Brate was sidelined for most of the second quarter after taking a brutal hit and tight end O.J. Howard left the game with an ankle injury shortly after his touchdown catch, tight end/fullback combo Alan Cross came up with a huge 23-yard grab on third-and-4 that helped propel the Bucs to their first trip into the red zone of the night. Wide receiver Adam Humphries was able to step up not only in receiving yards, racking up 43 and his first touchdown of the season, he was also a key contributor on special teams. Hard Knocks-favorite Riley Bullough also made his NFL debut due to injuries to the linebacker corps.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 15 matchup with the Falcons.
- Mike Evans battled for the ball and saw production.**
Wide receiver Mike Evans led the team with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He would have had more yards – 55 more to be exact – had his 55-yard touchdown reception to start the second half not been called back due to offensive pass interference. With his touchdown on Monday night, Evans now sits tied for second-most receiving touchdowns in team history, passing Kevin House. He leads the team this season with 60 receptions and has 839 receiving yards through 14 games.
4. The Bucs' defense stepped up, limiting quarterback Matt Ryan and stripping the ball.
Sometimes all it takes is a bounce – but it was a bounce that didn't happen for the Buccaneers, despite forcing two fumbles. Defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. stripped the ball from running back Devonta Freeman's hands at the goal line in the second quarter. The ball then took a fortuitous bounce for Atlanta and the Falcons' Levine Toilolo was able to recover in the end zone for Atlanta's second touchdown of the game. The defense was operating without linebacker Lavonte David, who has been tremendous at taking the ball away all season. In his absence though, linebacker Kwon Alexander stepped up his role, recording a season-high 13 tackles for the Bucs. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was also kept out due to a biceps injury and in his place, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald was able to bring quarterback Matt Ryan down for the sack on a big third down play in the fourth quarter that gave the Bucs one more chance to tie the game. The biggest success for the defense came in making Atlanta receiver Julio Jones a non-factor. Jones had just three receptions for 54 yards in the game, a drastic improvement from what he was able to do against the Bucs in Atlanta in Week 12.
5. The Bucs didn't have an answer for RB Devonta Freeman and the Falcons' ground game.
Unfortunately, while the Bucs managed to stifle Matt Ryan and the Falcons' passing attack, the run defense suffered. Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman, who was out with a concussion the last time the teams met in Week 12, was healthy and active this time around. Active to the tune of 194 yards on 24 carries plus a touchdown on Monday night, to be precise. His touchdown didn't come until the fourth quarter: the Bucs were within three and had Atlanta in third-and-2 at the Bucs' 32-yard line when Freeman broke loose for the 32-yard touchdown run, putting Atlanta up 24-14 with 7:58 to play. The Bucs drove down the field and answered with a touchdown of their own, but in the end fell short.