Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 9 matchup with the Falcons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dressed in red from head to toe on Thursday night but couldn't put up the stop sign in the second half, giving up 27 unanswered points in a 43-28 loss to the visiting Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. The loss dropped the Buccaneers to 3-5 on the season, 2.5 games behind the first-place Falcons. It was Tampa Bay's first loss in division play after wins at Atlanta in Week One and Carolina in Week Five.
"We really struggled in the second half," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "That third quarter, we just couldn't get off the field. [Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith] tried a lot of different defenses and we just couldn't get a stop. I'm not sure exactly why, we'll have to check it out tomorrow, but we definitely couldn't stop them in the second half."
WATCH: BUCS VS. FALCONS HIGHLIGHTS
Playing for the second time in five days, the Buccaneers saw their home record fall to 0-4 in 2016. They will play a third straight home game in Week 10 against the Chicago Bears as the second half of the season begins.
"We can't make excuses," said Koetter. "We are what we are. We have to figure out a way to get better. We're 3-5 at the halfway point and that's what we've earned. That's what we talked about in the locker room. We've got half a season left and I've got to figure out a way to make this team play up to their potential because I don't feel like we are right now. And that's 100 percent on me."
Tampa Bay's defense had trouble slowing down the NFL's top-ranked offense on this Color Rush evening, allowing 461 yards and four drives of 74 or more yards. Atlanta did not punt in the game. QB Matt Ryan completed 25 of 34 passes for 344 yards and four scores including eight throws to WR Julio Jones for 111 yards and a touchdown. RB Devonta Freeman led a 136-yard ground attack with 77 yards on 17 carries.
Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers' offense were sharp early, driving for a touchdown to start the game and briefly taking a 14-13 lead in the second quarter. Winston completed 23 of 37 for 261 yards and three touchdowns and was not picked off, though he did lose a fumble in the first half. Winston hooked up 11 times with WR Mike Evans for 150 yards and two touchdowns but there wasn't much else that proved consistently effective on offense for the Buccaneers. Playing without Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Bucs gained just 73 rushing yards behind a committee of Peyton Barber, Antone Smith and Mike James.
"Mike played the best game I've seen him play in my time here," said Koetter of the Bucs' top receiver, who now has eight touchdowns at the halfway point. "Mike was fantastic tonight."
Winston absorbed three sacks but was mostly effective on the evening, also finding WR Adam Humphries for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He sustained a knee injury trying to score on the resulting two-point conversion and Mike Glennon came on for his first regular-season action since 2014. Glennon completed 10 of his 11 passes for 75 yards and threw a late touchdown to TE Cameron Brate to complete a 75-yard drive.
The Buccaneers also hurt themselves with 11 penalties for 85 yards, as well as a pair of turnovers that led to first-half field goals when the game was still very much in contention. Prior to Thursday's game, Tampa Bay had compiled a plus-six turnover ratio over its previous three contests. The Bucs' lone turnover of the game was a Daryl Smith recovery after a sack and forced fumble by DT Gerald McCoy in the first half.
"We definitely hurt ourselves with penalties," said Koetter. "Penalties were an issue in that first half, offensively. Every time we got something going we got a 15-yarder. That's really what stopped us in the first half. I don't feel like we got stopped other than stopping ourselves with penalties. And yet we were only down six points at the half."
The Buccaneers scored first but the lead changed hands three more times before halftime. It was a largely offensive first half, with Atlanta racking up 225 yards to the Bucs' 186. The Falcons converted three of their six third downs and the Bucs were good on four of seven tries.
The Buccaneers got off to a hot start, taking the opening possession 75 yards for a touchdown, converting three third downs in the process. The first came on an underneath handoff to Smith out of the shotgun, gaining seven yards on third-and-one. Winston later hit Evans on a crossing route, evading pressure to pick up 17 yards on third-and-two to the Atlanta 34. The third conversion was originally scored a touchdown, as Brate caught an 18-yard pass as he fell to his back at the Atlanta 10 with a Falcon defender flying by. Brate got up and dived to the pylon for an apparent score, but the play was reviewed and he was ruled down at the 10. After a seven-yard run by Smith, Winston scrambled to his right and threw a dart to Evans in the back corner of the end zone.
Atlanta answered immediately, chewing up 75 yards on just five plays. It started well for the Bucs with a Hargreaves PBU and a second-down run stop, but Ryan converted a third-and-nine with a dumpoff over the middle to Freeman and two plays later hit TE Levine Toilolo for a 32-yard touchdown to tie it up.
Smith fumbled two snaps later, with Atlanta recovering at the Bucs' 19. Tampa Bay's defense held after the turnover but the Falcons still took the lead on Matt Bryant's 29-yard field goal. The Buccaneers took the ensuing drive across midfield but Winston fumbled on an attempted third-and-one sneak, with Atlanta recovering at their own 39. The Falcons challenged the initial ruling in order to get the call.
A 20-yard run by Freeman on the first play of the second quarter got the Falcons into scoring range after that turnover. S Chris Conte broke up a pass near the goal line on third-and-seven to force Atlanta to settle for a second Bryant field goal and a 13-7 lead.
The Buccaneers' first takeaway of the game gave them a short field with nine minutes left in the half. McCoy sacked Ryan on a second-and-seven, forcing a fumble that LB Daryl Smith recovered at Atlanta's 19. The Bucs turned that into seven points when Winston scrambled on second-and-15 and hit Evans in the end zone for a second time on a 24-yard pass. Evans was locked in a hand battle with CB Robert Alford until moments before the pass arrived but managed to get free and pluck the ball out of the air near the left sideline.
The Bucs took a one-point lead on that touchdown but gave it back on the next drive, as Atlanta marched 74 yards on nine plays to go back in front on a nine-yard end-around by WR Taylor Gabriel. A 26-yard catch by Gabriel had gotten the ball deep into Buccaneer territory, and Ryan then converted a third-and-12 with a 16-yard strike to Austin Hooper.
Each team drove to midfield one more time before halftime but neither could turn it into points. Two sacks of Winston by Grady Jarrett ended the Bucs' effort, and a William Gholston sack turned away the Falcons on third-and-six at the Atlanta 48.
Photos from Buccaneer legend John Lynch's Ring of Honor halftime ceremony.
However, Atlanta took the opening drive of the second half for a touchdown, marching 86 yards on 11 plays to finish with a one-yard Ryan pass to FB Patrick DiMarco. The drive was extended in Atlanta's half of the field when the Bucs' lost a replay challenge on a third-down catch by Jones. Jones caught four passes on the drive for 59 yards, and a third-and-goal incompletion was erased on a pass interference penalty in the end zone against CB Vernon Hargreaves. The Falcons went for two after the touchdown but were denied, making it a 26-14 game.
After a three-and-out by the Bucs' offense, Atlanta once again mounted an extended scoring drive, this time going 82 yards on 10 plays to end in Jones's toe-tapping three-yard TD catch with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Bucs got across midfield on the next possession thanks to a pair of superb sideline catches by Evans – including a one-hander on which he held on despite a hard hit – but ended up giving it over on downs. A successful fourth-and-one run by James was erased by a holding call on Winston's fourth-and-11 pass sailed over the head of Humphries in the middle of the field.
Atlanta continued on its roll after taking over near midfield, driving 57 yards for another score, this time converting a third-and-goal with a two-yard pass to Hooper.
The Buccaneers stopped Atlanta's scoring run on the next possession, putting together a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended in a seven-yard Winston touchdown pass to Humphries. On the previous play, Winston had scrambled out of trouble and found WR Cecil Shorts for a gain of 20 on third-and-16. Evans caught two passes for 43 yards on the drive but was also called for offensive pass interference on a throw into the end zone. The Bucs went for two after the touchdown but failed as Winston tried to scramble to the right pylon but was met with a very hard hit at the end of the run.
The Buccaneers attempted an onside kick after that score but Atlanta recovered at Tampa Bay's 44. Atlanta gained one first down and then tacked on three points with a 50-yard Matt Bryant field goal. Glennon came on to relieve Winston and completed 10 of 11 passes on a 75-yard drive that ended in Brate's two-yard TD catch. The Bucs went for two and got it on a Glennon-to-TE Brandon Myers connection with 59 seconds left.