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Bucs' Offense Turns It Around in Second Half | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Falcons

More success on the ground and a couple of improbable Baker Mayfield completions allowed the Bucs' offense to overcome a sluggish first half in Atlanta and score enough points to get the win

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons, 29-25, on Sunday and they had a 12-10 lead at halftime despite gaining only 85 yards of offense in the first two quarters. Two things happened in the second half to allow the Buccaneers to escape Atlanta with a narrow comeback win: the running game started to produce on a consistent basis and quarterback Baker Mayfield delivered on a couple difficult throws in crunch time.

As Head Coach Todd Bowles noted after the game, the Falcons were essentially daring the Bucs to run with their defensive alignments, which were geared more towards stopping wide receiver Mike Evans. The Bucs tried to do so in the first half but without any sustained success, gaining 38 yards on 15 carries, or 2.5 per tote. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bucs had a success rate of just 20.0% on designed runs in the first half; a run is deemed successful if it results in positive EPA, or expected points added. Buccaneer ballcarriers were first contacted by defenders at an average of 0.5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Things changed dramatically in the second half. The Buccaneers ran 22 more times and gained 110 yards, gaining an average of 5.0 yards per carry. After halftime, Tampa Bay's run game had a very good success rate of 57.1% in the last two quarters, and the Bucs' running backs gained an average of 1.2 yards past the line of scrimmage before defenders first made contact.

Even Tampa Bay's final game-winning drive in the game's last three minutes included five runs by Rachaad White, and three of them generated positive EPA. One of the two that didn't was still a useful four-yard run on first-and-10 from Atlanta's 15, one play before Mayfield's game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton.

Mayfield threw for 144 gross passing yards on the day, 95 of which came in the second half and 50 of which came on the Bucs' last touchdown drive. That drive included two of Mayfield's least likely completions on the day. The first was a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Godwin on third-and-10 from Atlanta's 47. NGS gave that play just a 44.7% chance of being completed. Godwin ran a corner route out of the right slot and got just behind cornerback Clark Phillips. Mayfield had good protection and held the ball for 2.97 seconds before letting it fly. At the time the pass was released, Godwin had just 0.9 yards of separation from Phillips; it was still only 1.2 yards at the time the pass arrived.

Mayfield's least probable completion of the entire game, according to NGS, was his last one, the 11-yard scoring toss to Otton with 31 seconds left in regulation. That one had a completion probability of just 36.5%. Otton came out of the left slot and ran a corner route, and he was tightly covered by safety Richie Grant – so tightly, in fact, that Grant drew a defensive holding flag for grabbing Otton as he made his cut to the corner. Otton had just 0.7 yards of separation from Grant when Mayfield threw the ball and 1.2 when the pass arrived. The touchdown raised the Buccaneers' win probability from 71.2% before the play to 95.1% after it.

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