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Bucs Stun Falcons with Late Rally, Secure Share of First Place

The Bucs rallied for a 29-25 win in Atlanta on Sunday, taking the lead on a Cade Otton touchdown catch with 31 seconds remaining, in the process catching the Falcons for a tie atop the NFC South

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Baker Mayfield hit Cade Otton on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in regulation to give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a 29-25 win in Atlanta on Sunday. That play completed a 75-yard three-minute drive that followed the Falcons taking a 25-22 lead on a Desmond Ridder touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. WR Chris Godwin had a critical 32-yard catch on third-and-10 to set up Otton's score.

"We only needed a field goal to tie it and send it to overtime, but we wanted to score," said Mayfield. "We were able to run the ball – the offensive line played extremely well in that aspect. We got a couple huge plays, obviously Chris on that long play. It's so clutch. Chris ran a great route. Can't say enough about him and the job he did today. It was a clutch moment to set up that play to Cade. We knew down there in the red zone they were going to take Mike [Evans] and Chris away, so Cade had one-on-one and he made a great play."

The Buccaneers' second consecutive win against a division opponent improved their record to 6-7 and put them into a tie with Atlanta and New Orleans for first place in the NFC South. The Saints beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, 28-6. Tampa Bay now controls its own fate in terms of winning a third straight division title, in that if they win their last four games they will finish in first place regardless of the outcomes of any other games.

"I can't say enough about these guys fighting, the competitiveness they had coming in here," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "Huge win. It's going to be like that every week for the next four weeks."

The win wasn't secured until the final play of the game, when DB Christian Izien dropped WR Drake London at the Buccaneers' three-yard line on a 28-yard catch as time expired. That completed a huge day for London, who caught 10 passes for 172 yards. Ridder threw for 347 yards but had the game's only turnover on a Carlton Davis interception at the end of the first quarter.

Mayfield and the Bucs' passing attack struggled for most of the first three quarters before hitting a series of big plays on two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Mayfield finished with 144 yards on 14 of 29 passing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He targeted Godwin 11 times, leading to five catches for 53 yards. He also hit RB Rachaad White on a 31-yard score in the third quarter that gave the Bucs a 19-10 lead.

"He's been doing it all year," said Bowles of Mayfield's clutch playmaking. "I've been bragging about his mettle all year. He's a guy we rally around. He's a guy who puts us in a position to win. He doesn't get rattled easy and he came up with some plays."

Fortunately, the offense was supported by the best performance of the season from the rushing attack, which produced a season-high 148 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. White gained 102 yards on 25 totes and Chase Edmonds added 40 more on eight carries.

"They ran two-high, shell-high the whole game," said Bowles. "They were daring us to run the football, so we got the run going. We outgained them in the run department, which is very rare because they're an excellent running football team. That helped us out a lot, and once they came down at the end it opened up some other stuff for us."

Atlanta gained 434 yards to 290 for the Buccaneers but was held to 96 yards and 3.7 yards per carry on the ground. The Falcons also missed on two first-half scoring opportunities when standout kicker Younghoe Koo missed on field goals of 50 and 52 yards. Koo had missed only once in 25 tries before Sunday's game.

CB Zyon McCollum, playing for an injured Jamel Dean, led the Bucs with nine tackles and had two passes defensed and a forced fumble. S Antoine Winfield added eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, and also had an interception erased by a penalty away from the play. The Bucs broke up eight of Ridder's pass, including three by Davis.

The Falcons outgained the Bucs by more than 100 yards in the first half, 186 to 85, but the visitors took a 12-10 lead into halftime thanks to two defensive plays made deep in Atlanta territory. Davis's interception at the Atlanta eight set up Mayfield's touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to give the Bucs a 10-3 lead. After Atlanta tied the game on Ridder's 36-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts, S Antoine Winfield got a strip-sack on Ridder and OLB Patrick O'Connor tackled Kevin Smith in the end zone after Smith picked up the loose ball, resulting in a safety and a two-point lead. It was the first safety scored by the Buccaneers since OLB Shaq Barrett had one in Denver on September 27, 2020.

"Those were huge" said Bowles. "We should have had [more.] We came up with some plays and made some things happen and we got win. Tough team, tough place for us to play, and for us to win the ballgame was huge.

The Bucs got the ball first after a touchback and took two plays to get a first down, a six-yard run up the middle by White and a six-yard catch by Godwin. The Bucs then faced a third-and-three at their own 44 and Mayfield had a long time in the pocket to find WR David Moore on a crossing route for 11 yards. A sliding five-yard catch by WR Trey Palmer two plays later made it third-and-four at the Atlanta 39, and Mayfield escaped a near sack to take off on a scramble. However, he was stopped two yards short and K Chase McLaughlin came on to drill a 55-yard field goal for the game's first points.

The Falcons started their first drive with a tunnel screen to Robinson that was good for four yards, then sent Robinson out on an out route that got 11 more. CB Zyon McCollum fought through a blocker to blow up a screen to the left to TE Jonnu Smith that gained only two. After a zero-yard sack by DL Greg Gaines, Ridder converted the third-and-eight with a 26-yard pass down the right sideline to WR Drake London. Two Tyler Allgeier runs made it third-and-five at the Bucs' 27 and Ridder moved the chains with a seven-yard scramble. Another Ridder scramble two plays later made it third-and-three at the 13 and McCollum tripped up London a yard short on a quick third-down pass. The Falcons went for it on fourth down and just barely got it on a rollout pass to TE Kyle Pitts. However, the Bucs' defense held inside the 10, pressuring Ridder into an incompletion on third-and-goal from the two. The Falcons sent out K Younghoe Koo to tie the game with a 20-yard field goal.

The Bucs' second drive was a three-and-out, with CB A.J. Terrell breaking up a first-down slant pass to Evans and a third-and-eight pass sailing out of Godwin's reach. Return man Dee Alford bobbled Jake Camarda's punt out of bounds at the Atlanta 14. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Davis read another screen pass to Robinson and jumped it for an interception at the eight-yard line. The first quarter came to an end on White's run down to the two-yard line. The second quarter began with Mayfield faking a shotgun snap to White and keeping it on a two-yard touchdown run over left tackle.

After a six-yard run by Robinson, TE MyCole Pruitt fumbled backward and out of bounds on a short catch to make it third-and-two. Robinson got the ball again and broke into the second level of the defense for a gain of eight. Ridder dropped back to pass on the next play and hit London on a deep out for a gain of 22 to the Tampa Bay 37. Two plays later, Pitts got wide open down the right side and Ridder hit him for a 36-yard game-tying touchdown.

A second-down pass up the middle to RB Chase Edmonds got the Bucs a quick first down at the 36 to start the next drive, followed by an end-around to Palmer that was good for three. Two plays later, on third-and-four, Mayfield threw to Edmonds again, this time on the left sideline for a gain of eight to the midfield stripe. White came back into the game and ran up the middle for four but was stopped two yards short of the first down on a third-down catch. The Bucs went for it on fourth-and-two from the Atlanta 42 but White couldn't find the corner on a toss-sweep left and was dropped for a loss of five.

Atlanta thus took over at its own 47, and on first down Ridder rolled out to his left and hit wide-open WR KhaDarel Hodge for a gain of 18 into Bucs territory. Winfield stopped Robinson for no gain on the next play and Davis spun WR Mack Hollins down on a four-yard catch to make it third-and-six. The pocket collapsed on Ridder on third down and Kancey tripped him up as he tried to escape for a one-yard sack. Koo's 50-yard field goal try hit the right upright to keep the game tied with 4:20 left in the half.

After a four-yard run by White, Mayfield tried to go over the top to Godwin down the left numbers but the pass was out of his reach. DL Kentavius Street dropped Mayfield for a two-yard sack on third down and the Bucs had to punt with three minutes left. Camarda's kick was fair caught at the Atlanta eight.

The Falcons' ensuing drive lasted just one play and resulted in two points for the Buccaneers. Winfield got to Ridder on a blitz for a strip-sack. FB Keith Smith recovered the loose ball but was tackled in the end zone by O'Connor for a safety to put the Bucs back on top, 12-10. Atlanta had to free kick from their 20 after the safety and Deven Thompkins returned it 29 yards to the Bucs' 34. One four-yard run by White brought on the two-minute warning. Another run by White followed by a Tristan Wirfs false start put the Bucs into a third-and-eight. Mayfield spun away from a near sack and scrambled right but wasn't able to find an open man, throwing incomplete in Cade Otton's direction. Camarda came on to punt and hit it end over end, allowing Alford to catch it on the run and get all the way back to the Atlanta 47 with just under a minute left before halftime.

Ridder fumbled on the ensuing first down but was able to fall on it back at the 43. He got all of it back on the next play by throwing a 15-yard dig down the middle to London. London ran an out on the next snap and got eight more and also got out of bounds to stop the clock. LB Lavonte David broke up a short pass over the middle on second down and Barrett knifed through the line to drop Robinson for no gain on third down. The Falcons stopped the clock with three seconds left and sent out Koo for a 52-yard try. This one knuckled off to the left and was no good.

Robinson got the ball on the first play of the second half and went right up the gut for eight yards. After a short pass to Ridder moved the sticks, Winfield intercepted a pass deflected by David. However, the turnover was nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty on Davis on the other side of the field. Atlanta got a free first down out of the flag but then fell into a third-and-10 moments later. Ridder escaped a near-sack and got off a pass to Smith but a good open-field tackle by Winfield made the play come up two yards short. The Falcons elected to punt from the Bucs' 48, though the Bucs had to burn a timeout. Bradley Pinion's kick was downed at the Bucs' seven.

A play-action rollout left came up empty on first down when the ball hit the ground at the feet of TE Ko Kieft. It was third-and-10 after Mayfield's next pass was deflected inches after it left his hand by DL Calais Campbell. A drew to White worked for eight yards but still led to a Buccaneer punt. Camarda got off a 57-yard kick but it was returned 18 yards to the Atlanta 46.

Ridder rolled left and threw deep to London on first down but S Kaevon Merriweather raced over from the middle of the field to poke the ball out of his hands at the last second. Davis broke up the next pass over the middle to Hodge and a deep shot on third down was over WR Scotty Miller's head. Thompkins called for a fair catch at the Bucs' nine on the ensuing punt.

Mayfield had to jump to get a hand on the first-down shotgun snap, resulting in a loose ball that White picked up and Ran forward for a gain of three. Two plays later, on third-and-six, Mayfield hit Godwin on an out near the sticks but the receiver couldn't hang on and the Bucs punted again. IT was fair caught at the Atlanta 31.

Atlanta got flagged for a false start before first down and Davis got another PBU on an attempted slant to Pitts. Davis was on the spot again on second down, spinning London down for a gain of just four on a short pass right. On third-and-11, LB K.J. Britt jumped a pass intended for Pitts but couldn't pull in the interception. Thompkins returned the ensuing punt to the Bucs' 34.

Edmonds got a total of nine yards on two runs between the tackles, then White came in and took a stretch handoff around the left side for 12 more to make it first down at the Atlanta 45. Edmonds got two more handoffs to make it third-and-five and Mayfield was able to get a pass over the line to Evans for a gain of eight. Three plays later, on third-and-nine from the Falcons' 31, the Bucs ran a slow-developing screen to White to the left and he shot upfield to not only get the first down but make it all the way to the end zone. The extra point made it 19-10 with four minutes left in the third quarter.

The Falcons faced a third-and-six early on the next possession but Ridder stood in against pressure and delivered an eight-yard strike to Smith. Two Allgeier runs got the ball to the Atlanta 47 for another first down. Two plays later, McCollum broke up a deep pass meant for Miller to make it third-and-nine. Ridder threw an out to the left sideline to Smith and McCollum once again got his hands on it, leading to another Atlanta punt.

The Bucs' next drive started at their own 20 and a one-yard run brought the third quarter to a close. White got five more on the first play of the fourth period but Mayfield's third-down pass was too tall for Godwin and Atlanta got the ball back at their own 36 after the punt.

An incompletion and a toss-sweep by Robinson put the Falcons into a third-and-seven but a pass interference call on McCollum made it first-and-10 at the Bucs' 42. After two Patterson runs it was third-and-four at the 36, and Robinson got the four and more on a short pass he took down to the Bucs' three. Ridder gave it right back to the rookie on the first-and-goal and he scored easily to make it 19-17 with 11 minutes left.

After a touchback, Edmonds ran over right end for a gain of seven, then broke free up the middle for 15 more to the Bucs' 47. White replaced him on the next snap and went around left tackle for six yards into Falcons territory. White got 10 more going left on the next play, down to the 37. A rollout pass to Godwin and another White run earned another first down at the 26. After a crack at the end zone with Otton was incomplete, White ran for five. On third down, Mayfield scrambled to his right and threw to Evans in the end zone. Evans caught it but was ruled out. The Bucs challenged the call but replay showed that Evans' hand hit out of bounds before his second toe was dragged. The Bucs sent McLaughlin out for a 38-yard field goal that made their lead five points with 6:10 left in regulation.

Atlanta answered quickly, marching 75 yards on five plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ridder threw deep to London on the first play and he leaped over two defenders to pull down a 45 yards catch. Three Allgeier runs were good for 24 yards and then Ridder ran to the left pylon on a second-and-goal keeper to score the touchdown. The Falcons went for two and succeeded on Ridder's pass to London, making it 25-22.

The Bucs got one first down and then White ran for nine. Mayfield threw deep to Godwin on second-and-one but it was incomplete, and White was stopped for no gain on third down, bringing on the two-minute warning. The Bucs had to go for it on fourth-and-one and White powered through a band of tacklers to get the first down. Two plays later, the Falcons were flagged for defensive holding, which was followed by an incompletion from the Atlanta 47. After another incompletion, Mayfield found Godwin down the right sideline for a gain of 32 to the 15. Two plays later, Otton ran a flag route to the back left corner of the end zone and Mayfield dropped in a perfect pass for the 11-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Bucs a four-point lead with 31 seconds to play.

The Falcons used those remaining seconds to get very close to retaking the lead. A 28-yard completion to Pitts put the ball at the Bucs' 31, and Ridder spiked the ball with four seconds left. He got off one more pass to London down the middle but Izien was able to bring him to the ground at the three as time expired.

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