A week after they failed to finish off a win they thought was in their hands in Washington, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went a full 60 minutes – and then some – to knock off the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
The Buccaneers' 23-20 overtime victory against their division rivals was not secured until defensive tackle Gerald McCoy pressured QB Matt Ryan into a fourth-down incompletion with six minutes left in overtime. That came just two minutes after K Connor Barth hit a 31-yard field goal to cap a 68-yard drive on the opening possession of the extra period.
Photos from Buccaneers vs. Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
First-year DE Howard Jones also sacked Ryan and forced a fumble that the Falcons recovered two plays earlier, as a Buccaneer defense that did not force a punt in nearly five quarters came up with the big plays it needed at the end. Between Jones' two big moments, CB Alterraun Verner broke up a third-down pass intended for WR Justin Hardy.
"Coach just said, 'Get off the ball,'" said Jones of the conversation just before the game's final play. "Everyone's like, 'Get off the ball, this is the last down, everyone go for it, everyone get after it.' I was just trying to get him on the ground, just doing everything coach taught me during the week since I got here."
The Buccaneers improved to 3-4 with the victory, including a 2-2 record on the road. Most significantly, they are now 2-1 in division play, with two road wins already under their belts.
Atlanta forced overtime with a 40-yard touchdown drive ending in Ryan's eight-yard pass to WR Julio Jones in the back of the end zone with 17 seconds to play. The Falcons inherited a short field after the Buccaneers went for it on fourth-and-one and QB Jameis Winston came up short on a dive at the end of a scramble. The Bucs had also failed to convert a third down that would have allowed them to run off the clock with Doug Martin's dive over the top on the previous play.
Jones' touchdown completed a 17-point Atlanta comeback after Winston's own four-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The play called for Winston to make a third-down pitch to RB Charles Sims, but the rookie quarterback recognized that it wouldn't work and made a heady adjustment.
"That was a designed shovel pass; we've scored on that two times this year," said Winston. "Things broke down and I trusted my O-Line and got it in there. I just followed them right in there and that was a blessing. That's want-to. We needed this win so we went out there and took it."
The Buccaneers nearly took it on the first possession of overtime, as a touchdown would have ended the game and not given Atlanta chance to match or tie a field goal. Winston converted three third downs to keep the drive alive, one on a 14-yard pass to WR Mike Evans on third-and-10, then faced one more third down from the Falcons' seven-yard line. Rookie WR Adam Humphries got open in the end zone on a hook route but Winston skipped his pass to him.
"I want to score [a touchdown] because I don't want to give them a chance," said the young passer. "That was our mentality. We wanted to score and not give them a chance. We would have scored if I had made the throw to Adam on third down. Before the play I told him, 'Adam, hook it up.' He said, 'I got you.' I didn't make the play. I'm disappointed in myself for that, but the way that we overcame everything, it was a great team win."
Indeed, by settling for Barth's field goal the Buccaneers once again needed a final game-winning stop from their defense. This time, they got it.
"My whole attitude in that situation was 'redemption,'" said Winston. "Last week the defense thought it was their fault – no, it wasn't their fault – but you're going to come back and play harder and play stronger, and they won that game for us."
Added Jones: "Coach in the locker room at halftime [said], 'Keep pushing, keep pushing, don't let down, keep pushing.' And that's all we tried to do, just go out and keep pushing."
For the third straight game, Winston was efficient with the football, completing 16 of 29 passes for 177 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He has not turned the ball over in that three-game span and operated well on Sunday despite missing pass-catchers Louis Murphy, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Winston's one touchdown pass was to undrafted tight end Cameron Brate, a 20-yard strike shortly before halftime.
The Buccaneers were determined to run the ball, even against Atlanta's second-ranked run defense, and they managed to get 117 yards and a score on 32 hard-charging carries. Martin ran 23 times for 71 yards but got some very big yards in overtime and near the end of regulation.
Tampa Bay's defense surrendered 496 yards but was opportunistic enough to keep Atlanta off the scoreboard for much of the afternoon. The Buccaneers recorded all four of the game's takeaways on a trio of fumble recoveries and rookie LB Kwon Alexander's second-quarter interception. All 20 of the Buccaneers' points in regulation came on drives following turnovers.
Alexander also had a fumble recovery in the first half to go with a team-high 11 tackles. His strip of Jones and recovery in the second quarter was one of the game's biggest plays, and it was part of an emotional afternoon for Alexander, who suffered a family tragedy on Friday.
"You've got to give a special shout-out to everybody for being a teammate to Kwon Alexander," said Winston. "What happened to him and his family, and for us to overcome that as a team and fight for him and get a win for him, that's important."
Atlanta scored first with a short Matt Bryant field goal on the game's opening drive, chewing up half of the first quarter but settling for three as the Bucs' defense got a stop inside the 10. Jones accounted for much of the drive with three catches for 47 yards.
The Bucs got to midfield on their first drive before punting but were right back in possession at the edge of the red zone moments later. Jones caught a slant over the middle and split the defense to get 35 yards; however, just as Jones crossed the 40, Alexander caught him from behind and simply stripped the ball out of his grasp. Alexander than ran it back to the Atlanta 21 for a 20-yard return. Winston took two cracks at the end zone but just missed Evans and Humphries and the Bucs settled for Barth's 38-yard field goal to tie the game with two minutes left in the opening period.
The Bucs turned a second Atlanta turnover into another field goal, though they had to work a little harder for it on offense. A 28-yard misdirection pass to TE Cameron Brate was the big-gainer in a 10-play, 73-yard march that stalled at the five-yard line. Barth hit a 23-yarder to put the Bucs on top with 3:32 left in the first half.
Tampa Bay's defense recorded a third takeaway shortly after the two-minute warning and this time the offense capitalized with seven points. On consecutive throws, Winston converted a third-and-14 with a 20-yard strike to Evans and then put the ball in the end zone with a 20-yard seam pass to rookie TE Cameron Brate. That gave the Bucs a 13-3 lead they took into halftime.
Tampa Bay scored first in the second half, too, thanks to a fourth Atlanta turnover. The Falcons had driven well into Buccaneers territory with their first possession of the half, but a botched handoff between Ryan and Freeman led to a fumble that DT Henry Melton recovered for the visitors at their own 24. Two pass-interference penalties on Atlanta CB Desmond Trufant, the second for 39 yards, and a 21-yard scramble by Winston set up the rookie quarterback's own four-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Falcons cut the Bucs lead back to 10 points on the ensuing drive, marching 80 yards on 10 plays to set up Jacob Tamme's seven-yard touchdown catch with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Additional notes and in-game details:
- K Connor Barth is now 9-9 on field goal attempts since returning to the Buccaneers' roster three games ago. Dating back to his last two games with the Denver Broncos last season, including the playoffs, he has made 15 straight.
- The Buccaneers led at halftime, 13-3. That marks the fourth time in four road games this season that Tampa Bay has taken a lead into the intermission. The Bucs haven't allowed more than seven first-half points to any road opponent, with a total of 24 points surrendered in those four games.
- Second-year TE Cameron Brate recorded a career-long reception with a 28-yard catch in the second quarter, setting up the Bucs' second field goal of the half. Shortly before halftime, Brate added his first NFL touchdown on a perfect 20-yard seam pass from Winston to give the Bucs a 13-3 lead.
- Rookie LB Kwon Alexander set up 10 of the Buccaneers' 13 first-half points with an interception and a fumble recovery. He is the first Tampa Bay defender to intercept a pass and recover a fumble in the same game since Ronde Barber did it against the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 25, 2011. The Buccaneers won that game, 16-13.
- QB Jameis Winston set up his own four-yard touchdown run with a 21-yard scramble up the middle in the third quarter. That was the longest run by a Buccaneer quarterback since Josh Freeman broke off a 25-yarder against Dallas on Dec. 17, 2011.
- Alexander now has two interceptions through his first seven NFL games. He has already tied the record for most interceptions by a Buccaneer rookie linebacker, equaling the totals put up by Hugh Green in 1981 and David Lewis in 1984.
- The Falcons took the opening possession 71 yards for a field goal, with Jones getting nine yards on the first play of the drive and 17 on a quick slant to get into Buccaneer territory. The Bucs blitzed on second-and-eight from their own 44 and managed to hit Ryan as he threw but the Falcon QB still got a 21-yard pass off to Jones. Freeman just missed converting a third-and-two from the 15 with a draw play up the middle but Ryan's sneak up the middle moved the chains on fourth down and an unnecessary roughness call made it first-and-goal at the six. An interception and long return by LB Kwon Alexander was negated by an offside call but the Falcons still faced a third-and-goal from the three moments later. The Bucs covered well in the end zone and Ryan eventually threw the ball away under pressure. Matt Bryant kicked a 21-yard field goal to open the scoring.
- The Bucs looked to establish their run right away but faced a third-and-four after two Martin carries got a total of six. Winston was pressured into a scrambling incompletion on third down but the drive was preserved by an offside penalty against Atlanta. An 18-yard burst by Martin over right tackle got the ball close to midfield, and three plays later the Bucs faced a third-and-two at the Atlanta 43. They tried to convert it with another run but DE Adrian Clayborn shot into the backfield and dropped Martin for a loss of five.
- Tampa Bay got the ball back on what was officially the next play from scrimmage, after a holding call against Atlanta on a first-down Freeman run. Jones caught a quick pass over the middle and split the safeties but was caught from behind at the 41 by Alexander, who stripped the ball away in one clean motion and took off in the opposite direction. Though he got back to the Falcons' 21, the Bucs could pick up just one yard on three plays and settled for a game-tying 38-yarder by Barth.
- A 17-yard catch by Jones opened the next drive for Atlanta, which reached the Bucs' 20, where Atlanta faced a third-and-seven after two short Freeman runs. Ryan converted that by finding TE Jacob Tamme at the six. However, after a short Freeman run, C Mike Person rolled his snap back to Ryan and neither the QB nor Freeman could handle it before Smith swooped in for the fumble recovery.
- After Smith's nine-yard return to the Bucs' 22, Winston threw a perfect deep out to Evans for 13 yards. A well-executed screen pass to Sims was good for 13 more, and then a fantastic play-action misdirection play resulted in a wide-open Brate for a gain of 28 to the Falcons' 23. Sims took the next play up the middle for seven yards then moved the chains with a four-yard gain. After a near-miss in the back of the end zone, Winston found Myers at the five-yard line but that was three-yards short of the first down and the Bucs once again brought on Barth. He banged home a 23-yarder to put the Bucs up by three with 3:32 left in the half.
Freeman ripped off a 20-yard run to start Atlanta's next drive, but an offensive pass-interference call left the Falcons in a first-and-20 at their own 41 moments later. The Bucs gave five back on an offside call right after the two-minute warning, and the Falcons faced a third-and-five at the Bucs' 44 with 1:31 to play. That's when Alexander ended yet another drive, this one with an interception on a pass intended for Tamme over the middle.
Alexander got back to the midfield stripe with his return and a catch by Myers two plays later made it first down at the Falcons' 37. After a timeout by the Falcons with 43 seconds left, Winston delivered a clutch throw down the right numbers to Evans, who hauled it in at the 20 for a 21-yard gain. The Bucs used their first timeout with 35 seconds left in the half. On the next play, Winston found Brate running up the right seam and hit him in stride as he crossed the goal line.
The Bucs got the ball to start the second half but couldn't move it and ended up punting, with Atlanta return man Eric Weems getting back to midfield. Ryan converted a third-and-three with a screen pass to Freeman that got to the Bucs' 37. The Falcons then succeeded on another third down, needing one from the 28 and getting eight on a well-designed rollout pass to Tamme. However, the Falcons committed their fourth turnover on the next play when Ryan couldn't get the ball into Freeman's hands on a handoff and Henry Melton fell on it at the Bucs' 24.
Martin had to reverse direction on his first-down carry but still got nine tough yards. He then had a 19-yard scamper called back on a holding flag, making it second-and-11. The Bucs faced a third-and-six moments later but saw the drive extended by a pass-interference call on CB Desmond Trufant, who was trying to cover Evans. Trufant drew another pass-interference call on the next play when Winston looked for Evans deep down the right sideline, resulting in a 39-yard pickup to the Atlanta 25. Trufant was also shaken up on the play. Two plays later, the Bucs lined up in a five-wide formation and Winston simply took off when he saw the middle of the field wide open. A pump fake on the run helped him avoid one defender and he made it all the way to the Atlanta two-yard line to make it first-and-goal. The next two plays failed, but on third-and-goal from the four Winston faked a pitch to Sims and then took it up the middle himself for a touchdown.
Atlanta responded with a drive deep into Buccaneer territory, but after gaining a first-and-goal at the 10 they were hit with an illegal chop-block penalty on Freeman, pushing the ball back to the 25. However, two straight passes to Tamme converted the scoring opportunity into seven points, with Tamme getting in on a seven-yard catch.
The Buccaneers' next possession started with a rollout nine-yard pass from Winston to Evans, bringing the third quarter to a close. However, the play was reviewed and overturned, and a false start on the Bucs changed the situation to second-and-15 back at the 15. The Bucs brought in a jumbo package but Winston audibled to a pass to TE Brandon Myers for a gain of 17. On third-and-four from their own 38, Evans couldn't hold on to a short pass but the Bucs got a reprieve on an offside call against Atlanta. The drive then stalled, however, and the Bucs punted down to the Atlanta 17.
Ryan converted an early third down with a perfect slant to Jones despite tight coverage from Banks, but a holding penalty against the Falcons backed them up. That led to a third-and-nine from the Atlanta 35, on which RB Terron Ward took a short pass almost to the sticks. The Falcons chose to go for it on fourth-and-one from their 43 and Freeman was able to slip through the line for two yards. A quick slant to Roddy White picked up 19 to the Bucs' 36, Freeman's 16-yard run took it down to the Bucs' 12, and two plays later the Falcons faced a third-and-one at the three but were unable to convert when Josh Shirley stopped Freeman for a loss of three near the right sideline. Needing two scores to tie, the Falcons settled for a 24-yard field goal to make it 20-13 with five minutes to play.