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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Take Flight in Win Over Falcons

QB Jameis Winston threw touchdown passes to four different targets and the defense made the necessary plays at the end to secure a 31-24 win in Atlanta.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 1 matchup with the Falcons.

Jameis Winston completed just one of his first four passes, and his seventh toss was intercepted. That was just about the last thing that went wrong for the second-year quarterback on Sunday as he led his team to a 31-24 season-opening road win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Winston led four touchdown drives of 75 or more yards in the second and third quarters, finishing them with scoring tosses to TE Brandon Myers, RB Charles Sims, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Mike Evans, in that order. That staked the Bucs to a 31-13 lead and the defense managed to hold in the face of a furious comeback by Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

Winston finished the game with 23 completions in 33 attempts and 281 yards, as well as the second-highest TD total of his career. His passer rating by the end was a stellar 122.6. Winston got out of the slow start with a series of short passes to RBs Doug Martin and Charles Sims before eventually pushing the action downfield.

"We just turned the page," said Winston. "That's how we are. When we're clicking, we're a hard team to stop. Coach Koetter kept pressing and pressing and let us do what we do."

Winston's touchdown pass to Myers was a rollout play that he extended long enough for the tight end to get open at the front of the end zone. Sims followed with an amazing individual effort to turn a short pass into a 23-yard score, avoiding multiple tacklers and breaking out of two other potential tackles to tie the game at 10 in the second quarter.

When Winston did begin throwing deep, he got excellent help from his downfield targets. Seferian-Jenkins's touchdown was on an all-out dive over the goal line for a 30-yard catch and Evans made an over-the-shoulder fingertip grab for a 45-yard score.

"We had to check the ball down all game, but when we got those opportunities we've got to take advantage of them, and that's what Mike did," said Winston, who also lauded Seferian-Jenkins's effort. "It just comes from all the work that Austin has put in in the offseason. He has a lot of hype on him and he's going to back that up. He's going to keep making plays like that. I guarantee that's not the only play you're going to see him make."

Martin ran 18 times for 62 carries and added 34 yards on five receptions. His toughest yards came late in the game when the Bucs were trying to run out the clock with a four-minute drill. He accounted for one first down with runs of nine and four yards and then Sims got another one with a tough run on a short third-down pass. The Bucs didn't punt it back to Atlanta until just after the two-minute warning, having burned four minutes off the clock and all of the Falcons' time outs.

Atlanta still had one more chance with 1:52 to play and a dangerous offensive trio in QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and RB Devonta Freeman. However, DT Gerald McCoy tipped away Ryan's fourth-and-10 pass with just over a minute to play to seal the victory.

"You've got to get in his face," said McCoy of his clinching play. "The ball's coming out low, he's trying to get it downfield but he's trying to get it to a spot. He can't go deep because the game is on the line. Coach always teaches us, 'Hand off, hand up.' When his hand came up the ball I put my hand up and got a good tip."

The Falcons did edge the Bucs in total yards, 374 to 371, and Ryan completed 27 of 39 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Until a second-half surge, however, the Bucs had largely held Atlanta in check, and Jones was held to four catches for 66 yards, including a 25-yard TD in the third quarter. Freeman had just 40 yards from scrimmage, though reserve RB Tevin Coleman caught five passes for 95 yards.

McCoy's big play at the end was the result of improved coverage in the secondary from a year ago, as well as a more robust pass-rush. The Bucs sacked Ryan three times, including one by McCoy and one by free agent pickup Robert Ayers.

"It was just all 11 working together," said McCoy. "One thing I said about this year that we couldn't get done last year was rush and coverage working together. When it works together it looks very, very good and it's hard for our offenses to move the ball, especially on long downs. That's all that last play was, rush and coverage working together."

Second-year linebacker Kwon Alexander had the Bucs' third sack, and it was a big one, forcing a fourth-quarter punt during the Falcons' big comeback. As was the case when the Buccaneers won in Atlanta in 2015, Alexander was the defensive star, racking up a career high 17 tackles to go with that sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. In two career games in the Georgia Dome, he has 28 tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.

"Kwon was all over the place, man," said McCoy. "He said he would be. I told him, 'The guys up front, we're going to make it happen. We're going to open some holes for you to run through and make some plays.' He just had a huge day today."

Tampa Bay won despite losing the turnover battle, 1-0, and consistently having the worse end of the field position battle. The special teams helped, with punter Bryan Anger posting a gross average of 49.4 and a net average of 45.0 in his first game as a Buccaneer. Rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo opened his NFL career with a successful 43-yard field goal to open the scoring, three perfect extra points and six kickoffs into the end zone, three for touchbacks.

The visitors took a 17-13 lead into halftime thanks to an impressive two-minute drill, which was a strength of the Bucs' offense in Winston's rookie season. It appears that may be the case again after Winston completed seven passes on the 75-yard drive that ended in Sims' 23-yard catch-and-run. Winston completed 17 of his 24 passes before halftime, including a 14-of-17 showing in the second quarter, while Ryan was also sharp (11-of-14). The overall yardage at halftime was nearly identical, with 178 yards for the Bucs to 176 for the home team.

The Bucs had deferred after winning the opening coin toss, and the strategy worked out perfectly as the two-minute drive was followed by another 75-yard TD march to start the second half. Winston hit Evans twice to get to the Atlanta 25 then lobbed a pretty pass down the middle to Seferian-Jenkins, who rewarded his quarterback with an amazing diving catch as he crossed the goal line.

The first exposure for Tampa Bay's new-look defense was a good one, a three-and-out keyed by consecutive stops of Freeman by Alexander and Ayers. Matt Bosher's ensuing punt wobbled only 34 yards to the Bucs' 38 and Tampa Bay quickly got the ball into Atlanta territory on its first possession.

Facing a third-and-four near midfield, the Bucs isolated Seferian-Jenkins wide on rookie LB DeVondre Campbell and sent the tight end deep up the sideline, drawing a 25-yard pass interference call. After a tackle-breaking 12-yard run by Martin, the drive stalled at the 25 when two cracks at the end zone were thrown just out of the reach of Humphries and Evans. Aguayo came on to make his first real NFL kick, a 43-yard field goal to open the scoring five minutes into the game.

The Falcons answered right back thanks to a big play against a coverage breakdown, with WR Mohamed Sanu running alone down the right sideline and hauling in a 59-yard pass to the Bucs' 16. A second-down tackle-for-loss by Hargreaves on a receiver-screen to Justin Hardy and Ayers' sack on third down forced the Falcons to settle for Matt Ryan's game-tying 34-yard field goal.

Atlanta got its first lead of the game later in the first quarter thanks to the game's first turnover. Winston's attempt to throw to Jackson in tight coverage ended in an interception by CB Desmond Trufant, who returned the pick to the Bucs' 13. That ended a rough offensive series in which the Bucs were also flagged for holding and delay of game. Ryan capitalized with a five-yard touchdown pass to Sanu to make it 10-3.

The Bucs tied it back up on the ensuing possession, marching 75 yards on nine plays to set up Winston's four-yard rollout pass to Myers with 10 minutes left in the half. Winston completed all six of his passes on the drive for 59 yards, including a 14-yarder to Martin on which he was being dragged down by DT Grady Jarrett. The big play of the drive was a perfectly-blocked screen to Humphries for 26 yards to the Falcons' six.

A tackle for loss of Freeman by Lavonte David near midfield and an incredibly athletic third-down pass breakup by Brent Grimes got the ball back for the Bucs' offense, though with a tough starting point of the nine-yard line. The Bucs had to punt back but Bryan Anger helped in the field position battle with a booming 52-yard punt that was fair caught at the Atlanta 39.

The Falcons got back into scoring range when the Bucs brought a big blitz out of a three-down-lineman formation and Ryan found Coleman on the right sideline for a 47-yard catch-and-run. Coleman made a great spinning catch away from his body on Ryan's hurried pass and was able to rumble down to the 10. However, the Bucs' defense held there and Atlanta settled for another Bryant 34-yarder with 1:45 left in the half. That gave the visitors a chance to run out their two-minute attack.

Three straight passes to Brate got the ball over midfield and Winston then kept the drive alive with a sharp 11-yard strike to Jackson on third-and-10. After Atlanta called a timeout with 25 seconds left because they only had 10 defenders on the field, Winston dropped a first-down pass over the middle to Sims, who did the rest on a scintillating 23-yard touchdown. Sims appeared to be trapped by four Falcon tacklers at the 10 but he made a quick cut that fooled them all then broke two more tackles to go into the end zone standing up.

The opening drive of the second half needed just four plays to cover 75 yards, the last two a 27-yard fade-stop hauled in by Evans and a fantastic diving catch by Seferian-Jenkins as he crossed the goal line for a 25-yard TD. That put the Bucs up by a 24-13 score just two minutes into the third quarter.

The Falcons took the next drive over midfield thanks in part to a 15-yard penalty for a "choreographed celebration" by two players after a Gerald McCoy sack. However, that was countered a few plays later by a personal foul against G Chris Chester, though David had already stopped TE Jacob Tamme short of the sticks on a third-down catch. LB Josh Keyes committed a personal foul after the ensuing punt, which pushed the Bucs back to their own eight.

That proved to be no problem, as Winston proceeded to direct a 92-yard touchdown drive. An unsportsmanlike conduct call against Atlanta's Robert Alford helped a lot, erasing a failed third-down try from the Tampa Bay 10, but the Bucs did the rest. A Russell Shepard end-around and two strong runs up the middle by Martin took the ball over midfield and then Winston went deep down the middle to Evans. Evans pulled away from two defenders just before the goal line and made a finger-tip catch to put the Bucs up by 18.

The Falcons pulled back within two scores minutes later when Ryan finally found Jones for a big play. Atlanta's blockers gave Ryan time to let Jones work his way over the middle and get wide open. Jones took the short pass and ran untouched to the end zone for a 25-yard score, and the Falcons made it a 10-point game with a successful two-point conversion. Atlanta extended the drive at midfield by going for it on fourth-and-three and converting with a three-yard pass to Tamme.

After an exchange of punts, the Falcons got it back at their own 40 with just under 10 years to play. Two well-executed screen passes to Coleman got the ball all the way down to the Bucs' 23, Tamme broke a tackle to just get past the sticks and convert a third-and-12, but CB Jude Adjei-Barimah broke up a third-down pass in Coleman's direction and the Falcons elected to let Bryant kick a 29-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

The Buccaneers got two first downs on the ensuing drive to run off all but the final two minutes, and McCoy sealed the game with his fourth-down tip.

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