Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes and Mike Edwards recorded two pick-sixes in the span of four minutes in the fourth quarter to seal the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 48-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. It was Tampa Bay's 10th straight victory, extending an all-time franchise record and keeping the Buccaneers in a tie with the 2-0 Carolina Panthers atop the NFC South.
"I'm obviously happy with the outcome," said Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians. "I'm not happy with the way we played. Loved the start, then we get lacksadaisical. I like the start of the second half, then we get lacksadaisical. That's not going to work next week. I think we have to learn from [and] it's always better learning from winning. I like the way we finished the game."
The game looked like it could turn into a blowout after Shaquil Barrett's tipped-ball interception on the second play of the third quarter led to a Mike Evans and a 28-10 lead for the home team. However, before that quarter would end the Buccaneers would be going for it on fourth-and-one from their own 41-yard line, clearly demonstrating the gravity of the situation.
Brady's counterpart and a fellow former NFL MVP, Matt Ryan, led a furious third-quarter rally and got his team to within three points on touchdown passes to Calvin Ridley and Cordarrelle Patterson. However, a key third-down stop by DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches led to a short Atlanta punt that put Brady in position to hit Chris Godwin on a 12-yard touchdown pass with nine minutes left. Edwards then squashed any comeback hopes by Atlanta with his two scores from 31 and 15 yards out, the second one on big blitz that led to a deflected pass by Carlton Davis.
"The defense made some huge plays, that's the great thing," said Brady. "Fourth quarter, three-point game and they make a huge stop and [we] went down there and scored, which was good. Then a few big turnovers, so that was great to see. Offensively, we grinded out and found a way but obviously we all wish we could have done some things to be more productive. It was a good team effort."
Edwards joined Ronde Barber as the only two players in Buccaneers history to record two interception return touchdowns in the same regular-season game. Dwight Smith also memorably pulled off the feat in Super Bowl XXXVII. Edwards had just the 27th game in NFL history with multiple pick-sixes and the first since 2012.
"He's just a ball hawk," said Arians of the third-year safety. "He always has been since he's been here. He finds the ball. Guys were hollering at him, 'Get outside, get outside.' He suckered them right into it. He knew exactly what he was doing. Mike's a good football player."
Ryan had a prolific day and made several plays against a strong Bucs pass rush, finishing with 300 yards and two touchdowns while only taking one sack. However, he was picked off three times, with OLB Shaq Barrett also snaring a pass tipped by DL Vita Vea early in the second half. That set up the second of WR Mike Evans' two touchdown catches. TE Rob Gronkowski also scored twice and became just the second tight in NFL history to record multiple touchdowns in three straight games, playoffs included. New England's Ben Coates did it first in 1994.
Meanwhile, Brady threw five touchdown passes and was not picked off, completing 24 of 36 passes for 276 yards. His nine scoring tosses so far are a Buccaneer record through the first two games of a season and tied for the second most by any quarterback in that scenario. Still, the prevailing opinion among coaches and players after the game was that the offense could have done more. Atlanta's defense also put on a good amount of pressure, with three sacks, five QB hits and a forced fumble by Brady that negated a first-quarter scoring opportunity.
"We left points out there," said Arians. "Obviously we got 14 out of the defense but we left points out there offensively. I haven't seen us getting close to playing consistently yet. Hopefully we'll get there next week because we're going to have to."
If Brady and the Buccaneers' offense does find a way to increase their output, it could result in historic numbers. Tampa Bay is already the first team in NFL history to win nine straight games while scoring at least 30 points in each contest; Brady led two eight-game streaks during his 20 years with the Patriots. And yet the Bucs insist there is more meat on the bone.
View the best photos from the Bucs Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
"What I think and I'm sure other guys feel the same way is I think we can do better," said Brady. "I really do. I think we have the opportunity, the way the games are flowing and the opportunities we're getting with the ball we can maybe have even more opportunities. We were a little loose with the ball, some penalties at different times that have knocked us out of some scoring drives. Some missed throws that I've had, some missed reads. I certainly wish I had made a few better throws tonight. But, again, it's good to get the win. We're 2-0 and there's a lot to build on."
The Panthers are also 2-0 after rather handily defeating the New Orleans on Sunday, sending the Saints to 1-1. The Falcons fall to 0-2 under new Head Coach Arthur Smith with the loss. Tampa Bay's next game is in Los Angeles against the Rams, another 2-0 team widely expected to be prime contenders in the NFC.
"We jump out, we feel good, we've got them, and then we relax for 10 or 15 minutes," said Arians. "Then we turn it back up and then relax again. We haven't played for 60 minutes yet. That's what we talked about [in the locker room]. We're going to have to play for 60 minutes to beat the Rams."
Tampa Bay's offense got the fast start it had been seeking. Arians elected to receive when the Bucs won the toss and Brady turned that into a great decision, conducting a brilliant six-play 75-yard touchdown drive that included three completions of 20-plus yards. The first two went to Evans for 20 and 25 yards and the last one was the 25-yard scoring toss to Gronkowski, who Brady found while under serious duress in the backfield on third-and-eight.
The Bucs also had a good first series, forcing a three-and-out as ILB Devin White disrupted a third-down pass to RB Cordarrelle Patterson. That got the ball back in Brady's hands at the Bucs' 36 and quickly drove back into scoring range. The Bucs appeared poised to get at least three points after Fournette got down to the Atlanta eight on a second-down reception, but C Ryan Jensen drew an unnecessary roughness flag at the end of the play. On third-and-20, Brady held the ball for a long time looking for a man downfield and was eventually sacked from behind by Dante Fowler. The hit knocked the ball loose and LB Mykal Walker recovered it for Atlanta.
The Falcons got to midfield on the ensuing possession but Tampa Bay's defense held on third-and-one and the resulting punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback. This time the Bucs went nowhere and had to punt it back. Once again near midfield the Falcons went for it this time on fourth-and-one but Vita Vea led the charge that stopped Ryan's sneak inches short.
That gave the Bucs the ball just inside Atlanta territory, though a false start pushed it back across midfield. Fournette made up for that with a 10-yard run and Brady converted a third-and-two with an eight-yard strike to Godwin. Brady looked for Godwin again in the end zone two plays later and ended up with a first-and-goal after a pass-interference penalty on CB A.J. Terrell in the end zone. The drive ended in predictable fashion after that, given the way the season has begun, with a play-action pass to Gronkowski, who made a fantastic diving catch for the score.
This time, Atlanta answered right back, mostly thanks to Patterson. A tricky throwback play but Patterson a lane on the left sideline and he got 23 yards into Bucs territory. The five-play drive ended in Patterson's impressive 10-yard cut-back run for the score, trimming the Bucs' lead to 14-7 with 12 minutes left in the half.
After a very deep shot to Evans was just out of reach, the Bucs ended up punting the ball back to Atlanta at its own 11. The Falcons converted two third downs, one on a dazzling catch-and-run by rookie TE Kyle Pitts for 24 yards, to once again get across midfield. However, a tackle-for-loss on Mike Davis and a seven-yard third-down sack by Suh led to another punt.
Starting at their own 15, the Bucs needed eight plays to march 85 yards for their third score fo the game. The long gain was a strike right down the middle by Brady to Godwin for 26 yards. A last-second block by Fournette in the backfield helped Brady get off a 17-yard pass down to the Atlanta 36, and Fournette later barged for a first down at the three with two power runs up the middle. The Bucs threw on first-and-goal again, this time a simple out to Evans for the touchdown and a 21-7 lead with 43 seconds left in the half.
Atlanta managed to use those remaining seconds to cut their deficit by three points, mainly due to a string of penalties on the Bucs' defense. Two offsides calls cost 10 yards and also erased a defensive touchdown on a Shaq Barrett strip-sack. A personal foul on a sideline hit on CB Carlton Davis gave Atlanta 15 more yards and put the ball in range for Younghoe Koo to drill a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
The Bucs started the second half with the ball at their own but didn't have it for long. On the second play of the possession, Vea got a hand up in the backfield and deflected a short Ryan pass. Barrett easily hauled in the resulting floater and got the ball back to the Atlanta 18. Brady converted a third-and-two with a rare scramble for six yards. After a pass-interference call in the end zone made it first-and-goal from the one, and Brady and Evans simply hooked up on a trademark fade to the end zone sideline to give the home team a 28-10 lead.
The Falcons' second drive of the half went much better, as they marched 75 yards on 12 plays to counter the Bucs' touchdown with a three-yard touchdown catch by WR Calvin Ridley. Ryan converted two third downs along the way, one with a 23-yard completion to Patterson, and then delivered the scoring pass on fourth-and-goal with a heavy pass rush in his face.
Atlanta got the ball back quickly, too, as Tampa Bay's next drive included a fumble by Fournette that was fortunately forced out of bounds by a diving Godwin, a tipped ball on a deep sideline shot to Brown and a sack by Grady Jarrett on third down. It all added up to a drive start for Atlanta at Tampa Bay's 46 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Buccaneers' second-half struggles on third down continued, with Ryan converting a third-and-seven with a 22-yard pass to a wide-open Ridley down to the 21. A facemask penalty on Davis made it first-and-goal at the seven, and an improved flip from Ryan to Patterson got it in from there. The Falcons went for two and Ryan faked a handoff before running it in himself to make it a three-point game.
Momentum continued to swing in Atlanta's favor as the Bucs were forced to punt again two minutes into the fourth period. Tampa Bay actually converted on a fourth-and-one from their own 41 with a five-yard Jones run to end the third quarter. However, they quickly followed that with a 10-yard holding penalty on Gronkowski and a third sack of Brady, this one by blitzing LB Deion Jones. Punter Bradley Pinion helped the Bucs' cause by blasting a 57-yard punt that bounced sidewise inside the five and was downed at the four.
Tampa Bay's defense responded with a three-and-out, as Nunez-Roches split the Falcons' blockers on a third-and-one play and dropped Patterson in the backfield for a loss of three. Even better for the home team, punter Cameron Nizialek shanked the ensuing punt, sending it out of bounds at the Atlanta 43.
Brady turned that field position into a quick score. It took all of three plays, in fact: a deep in to Evans for 26 yards, a five-yard dumpoff to Fournette and a precise 12-yard touchdown pass to Godwin just over a leaping defenders in the end zone.
The Bucs got their lead back up to 16 points just minutes later when Edwards stepped in front of a short pass intended for WR Russell Gage in the right flat, popping the ball into the air and then intercepting it on the run to set up a 31-yard pick six. Edwards, primarily a safety by trade, was in the game playing the nickel corner position in place of the injured Sean Murphy-Bunting. Ryan Succop's extra point try bounced off the left upright to keep the Bucs from going ahead by three scores.
Tampa Bay's defense got another stop on the ensuing drive as Atlanta turned it over on downs at their own 43. The Falcons were forced to go for it on fourth-and-two and Devin White's perfectly-timed blitz up the middle led to Ryan simply throwing the ball into the ground over the middle.
The Bucs also turned it over on downs on the next possession but then immediately scored again. This time the defense sent a double corner blitz and Davis was able to bat the ball into the air and in Edwards' direction. The ball hawk safety hauled in and ran 15 yards for his second score, though he drew a taunting penalty for turning around at the end and backing into the end zone.