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Leonard Fournette Powers Bucs to Win Over Falcons, First Place in Division

RB Leonard Fournette piled up 10 catches, 139 yards from scrimmage as Tampa Bay held off a fourth-quarter Atlanta rally to win, 21-15, in Week Five and take over sole possession of first in the NFC South


In an early battle for division supremacy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rode Leonard Fournette, three quarters of stifling defensive play and one critical 'four-minute drill' to a 21-15 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

The win broke a two-game losing streak for the Buccaneers, both at home, and gave them sole possession of first place in the NFC South at 3-2. The Falcons fell to 2-3 as their two-game winning streak came to an end. The New Orleans Saints are also 2-3 after beating the Seahawks on Sunday. Coupled with a Week Two win in New Orleans, Tampa Bay is off to a 2-0 start in divisional play.

"It was big," said safety Antoine Winfield Jr. "It's us or them right now. We took that lead to take first place in the division so it's good."

Added QB Tom Brady, who guided the Bucs' offense to a season-high 420 yards: "Obviously, it's tough to lose two straight at home, but we didn't deserve it. That's football – you've got to earn it. There's no easy games; you've got to play good. Certainly five games in we've got a lot of work to do. We're not nearly at the point we're capable of being and we need a lot of people to step up."

The Buccaneers appeared to have the game well in hand with a 21-0 lead going into the fourth quarter, but a Tampa Bay offense that had not had a single three-and-out to that point produced three of them in a row. Meanwhile, Atlanta finally found some rhythm on offense and produced consecutive touchdown drives plus a two-point conversion to make it a six-point game with 4:38 left in regulation. Fortunately, Brady and the Buccaneers' offense mustered one more extended drive – the aforementioned four-minute drill – to run out the clock, helped significantly by two third-down defensive penalties.

"We just had a lot of three-and-outs," said Brady of the second-half lull by the offense. "We just weren't very good. Bad execution and it just wasn't our best in the second half. We have to learn from it and get better."

Fournette caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown while running 14 times for 56 yards and another score. He got the Bucs on the scoreboard first with a one-yard TD plunge in the second quarter, then scored again on a one-yard reception one play after Mike Evans got the ball down the goal line on a 40-yard catch-and-run, the Bucs' longest play of the game. K Ryan Succop made field goals of 21 and 44 yards and one extra point, with the Bucs successfully going for two after Fournette's third-quarter score.

"He did a great job, an absolutely great job," said Brady of Fournette. "He was super-focused and into it. [He's] a big, powerful, strong guy. Obviously when he gets a head of steam he's tough to take down. He catches the ball well and I love his effort out there, love his leadership."

Brady threw 52 passes for the second game in a row and topped the 300-yard mark again, completing 35 passes for 351 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He did so largely by working underneath against a Falcons defense that was taking away the big play and the between-tackle runs. A pair of rookies, TE Cade Otton and RB Rachaad White, contributed to that effort with a combined nine catches for 71 yards. Evans provided the two big plays of the game, a lunging 25-yarder down the sideline in the second quarter that set up Fournette's first touchdown and the 40-yarder noted above.

Tampa Bay's defense pitched a first-half shutout for the first time since Week 16 of the 2020 season and forced punts on five of the Falcons' first six drives. The exception was a missed 52-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo shortly before halftime that came two plays after a sack of QB Marcus Mariota by S Antoine Winfield Jr. That was an important sequence in the game because Brady and Fournette were able to use the remaining 20 seconds to get Succop in position for a 44-yard field goal. What could have been a 10-3 halftime lead swelled to 13-0.

"It was huge," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We needed every point we could get. Having them get backed up and not make a field goal helped us a lot."

Winfield was one of five different Buccaneer defenders to drop Mariota for a sack. OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka ended Atlanta's first drive with one of his own and rookie DL Logan Hall forced a key third-quarter punt with a takedown of Mariota on third down. DLs Vita Vea and Deadrin Senat also recorded sacks. There were no turnovers in the game by either team but Winfield's sack did force a fumble that Mariota was able to recover; Winfield also had two tackles for loss and a pass defensed. Mariota was limited to 147 yards on 14-of-25 passing, with one touchdown, though he also led the Falcons with 61 rushing yards on seven attempts. The Buccaneers forced Mariota to throw more than the Falcons probably preferred with good first-half run defense, though Atlanta eventually did pile up 151 yards on the ground.

"I don't think we executed in the third quarter," said Bowles. "The first half we kept their defense on the field; the second half, our offense kept going three-and-out and they kept our defense on the field. I think fatigue set in for both sides. Tough ball game. Wins are hard to come by in this league. We were playing for first place and we're happy we got it."

Mariota pulled the Falcons within one score with a 19-yard touchdown pass to WR Olamides Zaccheaus in the fourth quarter. The visitors successfully went for two after that score, setting up a potential game-winning touchdown drive if they could gain possession again. However, the Buccaneers gained four first downs on the ensuing possession to drain the clock, including one on a 12-yard burst by Fournette up the middle. A defensive-holding call on CB A.J. Terrell and a roughing-the passer flag on what would have been a sack by DT Grady Jarrett erased two bad third-down outcomes and Brady delivered the final blow by going to Evans on third-and-five for a sliding nine-yard catch over the middle of the field. The Buccaneers then kneeled it out to finish the game, but that was one of five drives in the game that lasted 11 or more plays, including three in a row in the first half.

Bowles appreciated what Fournette did from his 14-yard run on the second play of the game to his rugged work in the successful four-minute drill.

"He plays tough," said Bowles. "He ran hard, he blocked hard, he caught a lot of balls. He stretched some first downs and even when he was behind the sticks he broke a few tackles for us. Everything he did today we needed."

The Buccaneers got the ball first, starting at their own 19, and Fournette powered over left guard for a gain of 14 yards on second-and-10. However, the drive stalled shortly thereafter, with Brady overthrowing WR Russell Gage on a third-and-eight curl down the right seam. Jake Camarda's 65-yard punt rolled into the end zone for a touchback.

Mariota faked a pitch on the Falcons' first play and then wheeled around to his right to throw a quick pass to rookie WR Drake London, but Carlton Davis got there immediately and broke it up. An offsides penalty on S Keanu Neal gave Atlanta five free yards but Tryon-Shoyinka blew up rookie RB Tyler Allgeier's first carry and the play lost four yards. On third-and-nine, TE Anthony Firkser caught an 11-yard out with CB Sean Murphy-Bunting draped all over him. Three plays later, the Falcons needed 10 yards to move the chains and lost seven when Tryon-Shoyinka powered his way to Mariota for the game's first sack.

The Bucs followed with a long and impressive drive that ultimately came up empty. Chris Godwin picked up 20 on a third-down out and up and later added two more catches for 11 yards and another first down gained. A well-blocked screen to Fournette picked up 11 but the Bucs later faced a third-and-three at the Atlanta 15. Cade Otton caught a pass over the middle and tried to stretch the ball past the line to gain but came up just short. The Bucs went for it on fourth down, needing less than a yard, but Fournette was stone-walled just a few inches short of the sticks.

The Falcons thus took over on downs and were able to get the ball to midfield before stalling. Allgeier found a crease over left tackle for 17 yards and Mariota converted a third-and-seven with a 16 yard scramble to the 48. However, a holding call drawn by C Drew Dalman, trying to block Vea, created a third-and-17 that the Falcons couldn't overcome and Bradley Pinion's punt bounced down to the 12.

Throwing mostly underneath passes, Brady led the Bucs on a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive from there. White gained seven yards on a run and nine on a catch on consecutive plays, and later took a handoff out of the shotgun to convert a third-and-one. Brady took a deep shot down the right sideline but it was broken up by CB Casey Hayward, who was shaken up on the play. On third-and-three, Brady went down the left sideline for Evans, who made a dazzling catch for 25 yards down to the Falcons' 12. A holding call on Ko Kieft backed the Bucs up 10 but Brady got it back with a quick slant to Scotty Miller for 12 yards and a tunnel screen to Godwin that took it down to the one. Fournette powered in from there for his first rushing touchdown of the season.

After nearly getting sacked by Will Gholston two plays into the next possession, Mariota was able to convert a third-and-10 with an 11-yard square-in to WR KhaDarel Hodge. Tryon-Shoyinka made another drive-ending play moments later, screaming around left end and swiping at Mariota's arm, causing an off-target wobbler. The ensuing punt went down to the Bucs' 11.

For the third drive in a row, the Buccaneers marched methodically down the field, with Brady completing eight of his 10 passes for 87 yards. Brady got it started with a sharp pass over the middle to Gage for 14 and also hit Miller and White for consecutive 12-yarders. Godwin's 18-yard grab got the ball down to the Falcons 22 and Otton's 12-yard catch made it first-and-goal at the 10. The Bucs couldn't punch it in this time so Succop came on to hit a 21-yarder to make it 10-0 with a little over a minute left in the half.

A 30-yard kickoff return by Avery Williams got the Falcons off to a good start in a rushed scenario and Mariota hit Zaccheaus for 20 yards two plays into the drive. A roughing the passer penalty on Vea tacked on 15 to bring the ball down to the Bucs' 25 with 37 seconds left. A blitzing Winfield got Mariota to the ground and forced a fumble but the ball took a fortuitous bounce for the Falcons and Mariota was able to drag it in. Mariota threw one more ball away and the Falcons brought on kicker Younghoe Koo to try a 52-yard field goal. Koo pushed it right and the Bucs' took a shutout into halftime.

The Bucs thus took over at their own 42 with 20 seconds left before the intermission. That was enough time for Brady to hit Fournette twice for a total of 32 yards, setting up a 44-yard field goal try for Succop. He made it and the Bucs increased their lead to 13-0 as halftime arrived.

The Bucs kicked off to start the second half and rookie CB Zyon McCollum dropped Williams with a hard hit at the 18. False start and illegal man downfield penalties put the Falcons in a hole and a six-yard sack by Senat essentially forced a punt. Bucs return man Jaelon Darden fielded Bradley Pinion's booming 62-yard punt near the goal line but was able to weave his way all the way up to the Bucs' 26.

The Bucs hit a quick third-and-eight but Fournette took a short dumpoff and fought his way over the line to gain. White subsequently converted two crucial third-and-ones with tough runs and then Brady and Evans hooked up for another big play. On first down from the Falcons' 41, Brady slid up in the pocket, buying time to find Evans downfield on the left sideline between Terrell and S Richie Grant. Evans caught the ball, spun through a tackle attempt and dashed towards the sideline, attempting to dive through S Dean Marlowe for the pylon. He was ruled a yard short and the Bucs' challenge failed to reverse the call. On first-and-goal from the one, Brady faked a handoff and then threw an easy touchdown pass to Fournette on a flat route.

Mariota started the next drive by running an RPO to perfection, slicing over left guard for a gain of 23. However, ILB Devin White stopped Allgeier short on second-and-three, and when Mariota tried a play-action rollout on third down he failed to fool Hall, who dropped him for a nine-yard sack. Darden fair caught the subsequent punt at the Bucs' 13-yard line.

Fournette got the ball on all three plays of the Bucs' first three-and-out of the afternoon. A run and a catch lost a total of six yards and his 13-yard catch-and-run on third down wasn't enough to move the chains. Williams' dancing 28-yard punt return got the ball to the Bucs' 43-yard line with 1:43 left in the third quarter.

Caleb Huntley immediately broke off a 22-yard run up the middle and Rakeem Nunez-Roches jumped offside before the next snap. It took three runs to move the chains from there but the Falcons ended up with a first-and-goal at the 10 early in the fourth period. Two play later, the Falcons lined up in the pistol and Williams found a seam around right edge, spinning off the final tackler to go in standing up.

After a touchback, the Buccaneers' offense once again went three-and-out and Camarda's 38-yard punt was fair caught at the Atlanta 31. A deep out to London was good for 15 yards but the Falcons faced a second-and-22 at their own 34 after committing a facemask penalty. Mariota scrambled out of trouble on second down but only got five yards and Vea spun him down for the drive-ending sack on the next play.

The Bucs' offense produced its third straight three-and-out and the Falcons got it back at their own 30 with 10 minutes left. Three runs produced one first down and Mariota snuck over the line two plays later for a first down at the Bucs' 48. Mariota hit London on a square-in for a first down at the Bucs' 29 then converted a third-and-seven with an out pass to London directly over the heads of a Buccaneer blitz. Zaccheaus caught a pass over the middle and spun away from a tackler to jog into the end zone on a 19-yard score. The Falcons went for two and got it on Mariota's pass to Hodge in the back of the end zone.

With 4:38 left in the game, the Buccaneers got an immediate first down on a 12-yard Fournette run, then the Falcons called a timeout after another run for three. They faced a third-and-four moments later and an incompletion was erased by a defensive holding penalty on Terrell. That led to a new first down at the Bucs' 48 with 3:15 left. Atlanta used its second timeout after another five-yard Fournette rumble. Brady tried another deep shot to Miller but the receiver landed out of bounds with the ball. Brady was sacked on third down but the Bucs were saved once again by a roughing the passer penalty on Grady Jarrett.

That made it first-and-10 at the Falcons' 32. Brady tried to catch the Falcons off guard with a quick pass down the line to Evans but it went through his hands. After Fournette's five-yard run, the Falcons burned their last timeout at the 2:46 mark. Brady then threw the nine-yard strike over the middle to Evans for a new set of downs and Atlanta couldn't stop the home team from running out the clock.

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