If there was a traveling trophy for the all-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Atlanta Falcons series – the I-75 Cup? – it would be racking up the frequent flyer miles.
The Bucs-Falcons shared history is about as confusing as that analogy above that mashes two forms of transportation together (unless it's a metaphor? A simile?). Both teams have had their streaks of series dominance, the Bucs' run coming around the turn of the millennium and the Falcons' getting their revenge around the turn of the current decade, but there are also plenty of random outliers. Tampa Bay was, shall we say, not very good in 2011, but it still beat the Wild Card-bound Falcons in September (only to have Atlanta uncork an industrial-sized can of revenge in the Week 17 rematch…revenge being the rare item that comes in a can with a cork).
On the flip side, the Buccaneers seemed to be a lock for the playoffs in 2008 with a 9-5 record, only to have Atlanta deal them an overtime loss in Week 15 as part of an 0-4 skid to end the season postseason-less. Heck, the Buccaneers once fumbled away the opening kickoff in an overtime game and still won, in the process essentially locking up the NFC South title. You can read more about that below in less italicized fashion. (You can also read about how a superhero's alter ego is one of the best players ever against the Buccaneers…seriously. You're scrolling down now, aren't you?)
So the series has always been a bit random, and it has rarely been dominated by one team or another. The Bucs and Falcons first met in 1977, Tampa Bay's second season of existence, and Atlanta got the early jump with a lead. The Bucs tied it the next year, however – it was just the fourth win in franchise history – and that started a trend. The two teams met quite often for non-division opponents (they didn't move into the NFC South together until 2002), a total of 14 times from 1977 to 1999, but neither team ever had more than a one-game lead in the series until Atlanta got up by two in 1995.
That aforementioned run of Buc dominance in their own Super Bowl era eventually allowed the Florida oranges to get up by four games on the Georgia peaches, and then later push it as high as plus-six. That lead evaporated by 2012, however, and now the two teams are back into their back-and-forth rhythm. The Bucs were up by two as recently as midway through 2016, but Atlanta has won the last three to get back on top by one.
Next Sunday's game will be the 50th meeting between the Buccaneers and Falcons. A Tampa Bay win would make the series a neat 25-25, like flipping a quarter. Here's the series scoreboard (regular season only):
Tampa Bay 24
1. Tampa Bay 34, Atlanta 10, Dec. 8, 2002
The Falcons and their burgeoning star quarterback, Michael Vick, had gone eight straight games without a loss (there was one tie in the mix) when they came to Tampa in Week 14 of the 2002 season for a battle for first in the new NFC South. The game was so compelling – Vick against the Bucs' stifling defense – that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue chose to attend. In the end, it was no contest – Tampa Bay's defense swallowed Vick whole, allowing him only 12-of-25 passing for 125 yards and also giving him just nine yards on six carries. Derrick Brooks spied on and frequently stopped Vick cold; afterward, Warren Sapp referred to Brooks as the Bucs' highway patrol man, forcing Vick to stay under the speed limit (Brooks was #55). Meanwhile, Brad Johnson tossed four touchdown passes, two each to Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, and finished with a passer rating of 140.6.
2. Tampa Bay 27, Atlanta 24 (OT), Dec. 24, 2005
By virtue of a huge win in Charlotte two weeks earlier, the Buccaneers came into their Week 16 home game against Atlanta with a chance to remain in control of the NFC South, thanks to a tiebreaker edge over the Panthers. However, because Washington, Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta all had records within one game of the Bucs at that point, a loss would put them in a precarious position for the playoffs overall. The game was tied four times (7-7, 14-14, 17-17 and 24-24), the last one a result of Cadillac Williams' fourth-down touchdown run with 30 seconds left. The Buccaneers won the toss to start overtime but Edell Shepherd fumbled on the opening kickoff return and Atlanta had it at the Bucs' 18 just a few seconds in. After two short runs, the Falcons brought out Todd Peterson to try a 28-yard field goal and, stunningly, it was blocked by Dewayne White to keep the Bucs alive. Even more incredibly, the Bucs' Matt Bryant missed a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing drive. That led to a long OT period that stretched into the final seconds. Unsure of whether a tie or a win was necessary to keep their playoff hopes alive, Atlanta chose to punt from its own 24 with a minute left. Mark Jones ripped off a 28-yard punt return to get the ball just over midfield and Chris Simms completed two passes to set up Bryant for the 41-yard game-winner with 19 seconds left.
3. Tampa Bay 48, Atlanta 10, Sept. 13, 1987
Until this year and a stunning 48-40 shootout in New Orleans, the Buccaneers blowout win of the Falcons in '87 was probably the team's most explosive opening-day effort. It was certainly a career day for quarterback Steve DeBerg, who threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions while completion 24 of 34 for 333 yards. DeBerg spread the football around in a fairly remarkable fashion, as the team racked up 127 yards on the ground and 333 in the air but didn't have a single player rush for 47 yards or catch more than 62 yards worth of passes. Gerald Carter did lead the way with two touchdown receptions, and Mark Carrier, Calvin Magee and Phil Freeman all added one. The Bucs racked up 30 first downs and were an incredible 14-of-16 on third downs. The defense held Atlanta to 197 total yards.
1. Atlanta 35, Tampa Bay 7, Dec. 13, 1992
Neither of these teams was in playoff contention near the end of the '92 season, but it was still a contentious matchup, as there was long-boiling bad blood between Bucs Head Coach Sam Wyche and Falcons Head Coach Jerry Glanville from their days with the Bengals and the Oilers, respectively. With long-time Buc killer Wade Wilson under center, the Falcons rang up 413 yards of offense, with Wilson throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. (Don't believe us that Deadpool's alter ego is a noted Buc killer? Well, he's the only quarterback ever with at least 100 passes against Tampa Bay and a passer rating over 100.) What separates this game from some other lopsided affairs in the series is that Glanville got a chance to rub it in on Wyche and took full advantage. Not only did he have Wilson throw a touchdown pass to cornerback Deion Sanders at the end, but he also let Jesse Solomon carry the ball twice on the last drive. That would be linebacker Jesse Solomon, who had been cut by Wyche and the Bucs in the preseason.
2. Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 28, Dec. 20, 2003
This was another one with weird and compelling interpersonal relationships. Just five days before this Saturday night contest, the Falcons had introduced Rich McKay as their new general manager, the same Rich McKay who had been the Buccaneers' general manager from 1995 through the previous week. McKay enjoyed the start of the game, surely, as the Falcons intercepted Brad Johnson four times in the first half to build a 27-7 lead. It was 30-7 in the fourth quarter when Johnson and the Bucs launched a furious rally, including touchdown passes to Charles Lee, Keenan McCardell and Jameel Cook. Those drives were sandwiched around a Falcons fumble at the Bucs' eight-yard line and a successful onside kick after McCardell's 76-yard score. Johnson tried to hit Lee on the two-point conversion that followed Cook's touchdown but it was incomplete, and Tampa Bay's last playoff hopes died with it.
3. Atlanta 56, Tampa Bay 14, Sept. 18, 2014
This was a Thursday night to forget for the Buccaneers. The Falcons led 21-0 after the first quarter, 35-0 at halftime and 56-0 by the end of the third quarter. Devin Hester, the acclaimed return man who played much of his career under then-Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith, scored on a 20-yard end-around and a 60-yard punt return, the latter making him the all-time NFL leader in that category. The Falcons even got a defensive touchdown on a pick-six by safety Kemal Ishmael near the end of the first quarter. Matt Ryan completed 21 of his 24 passes and two of his touchdowns went to Julio Jones.
Bucs' Top Performers Against Falcons:
Among players currently on the roster, here are a few Buccaneers who have fared well against the Steelers.
· LB Kwon Alexander…6 games, 65 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 3 tackles for loss, 4 quarterback hits
· WR Mike Evans…8 games, 46 receptions for 692 yards, 8 touchdowns, 15.0 yards per catch
· DT Gerald McCoy…12 games, 22 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 8 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, three passes defensed
Falcons' Top Performers Against Bucs:
· QB Matt Ryan…20 games, 65.7% completion percentage, 248.7 passing yards per game, 95.5 passer rating, 30 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions
· WR Julio Jones…12 games, 83 receptions for 1,413 yards, 10 touchdowns, 117.8 yards per game, 17.0 yards per reception
· CB Desmond Trufant…10 games, 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, five passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles
Bucs-Falcons Game-by-Game Record:
· Overall Series: Atlanta leads, 25-24
· Bucs' Home Record: 14-12
· Bucs' Road Record: 10-13
· Current Streak: Lose 3 (2016-17)
· Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 6 (1997-2003)
· Falcons' Longest Winning Streak: 5 (2008-10)
· Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 1,052, Falcons 1,027
· Most Points in a Game, Tampa Bay: Buccaneers 48-10 (1987)
· Most Points in a Game, Atlanta: Falcons 56-14 (2014)
· Most Points, both teams: 71, Falcons 43-28 (2016)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Buccaneers: Falcons 17-0 (1977)
· Fewest Points in a Game, Falcons: Buccaneers 27-0 (2004)
· Fewest Points in a Game, both teams: 17, Falcons 14-3 (2006)