The Buccaneers halted the Falcons' late comeback bid in the final frame, cruising to a 21-15 victory at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. With sensational play by Leonard Fournette and three quarters of dominance by the defense that stifled the Falcons' offense, the Buccaneers took sole ownership of the division hierarchy. The win snapped a two-game losing streak and improved Tampa Bay's overall record to 3-2. Here are the top takeaways from the Bucs' Week Five matchup with Atlanta.
Leonard Fournette Spearheads Explosive Offense
With physicality at the point of attack, Leonard Fournette led the Bucs' high-powered offense. He caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 14 times for 56 yards and another score. Byron Leftwich dialed up creative ways to get Fournette to the edge on screens, motioning/loading up players to the left side of the formation, while rolling out Fournette on the right. No. 7 got the Buccaneers on the scoreboard first with a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. His second touchdown came after a highlight-worthy 40-yard catch-and-run by Mike Evans. A.J. Terrell was aligned off the line of scrimmage, Evans took off running down the left sideline, stuck his foot in the ground, and turned back to Brady, leaving Terrell in the dust. Evans brought the ball down to the goal line and Fournette cashed in on a one-yard reception.
"He plays tough," Bowles said of Fournette's production. "He plays tough. He ran hard, he blocked hard. He caught a lot of balls. He stretched on first downs. Even when he was behind the sticks, he broke a few tackles for us. So, everything he did today we needed."
With a lethal stiff arm and wrecking-ball mentality in the open field, Fournette became a nightmare for linebackers and safeties to bring down. He repeatedly made players miss, averaging 8.30 yards-per-reception. Fournette put on a show Sunday afternoon, one that garnered lavish praise from coaches and teammates alike following the Week Five rivalry game.
Tom Brady exploited the Falcons' defense by targeting the underneath area of the field on a predominant quick passing attack. Atlanta had to pick their poison, opting to take away the big play downfield (Mike Evans) by allocating resources on the back end with shell coverages, and stacking the box to take away interior runs between the tackles; thus, providing opportunities over the middle of the field for Chris Godwin, Cade Otton and Rachaad White. Godwin finished with six receptions for 61 yards (10.2 average), taking advantage of soft spots in zone. Godwin utilized effective pace off the line of scrimmage to find the void in the defense. From third-and-one in the first quarter, Godwin ran an out-and-up to perfection, taking advantage of the window of opportunity for a big gain – a microcosm of his performance. Rookies Otton and White contributed to the effort with a collective nine catches for 71 yards by gaining Brady's trust. White showcased patience and vision on runs, letting holes develop and bouncing runs to the outside. Otton stepped up in Cam Brate's absence, using his frame to box out defenders.
"I think Cade played well – he blocked well, he caught the ball well, he understands the game," Bowles described. "He's only going to get better for us. He's a very big piece of what we're trying to do, and his role has already expanded – I don't know if it can get any bigger – but it's already expanded…It depends on the game plan. You don't just make [the game plan] for one guy. But he'll play his normal amount of reps and when it's time for him to make a play he'll step up and make it."
Despite a fourth-quarter rally by the Falcons, the Buccaneer's defense imposed their will through three quarters, culminating in five sacks by the imposing unit. A week after allowing 41 points to the Chiefs – the most surrendered during the Todd Bowles era – the group stepped up on the field with a newfound hunger. Tampa Bay's defense pitched a shutout during the first half, with Antoine Winfield Jr. and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka sparking the demolition. Tryon-Shoyinka ended Atlanta's first drive with a third-down sack. Off a three-man rush, Tryon-Shoyinka faked to the inside and once the offensive lineman overset, he spun to the outside for a takedown of Marcus Mariota and seven-yard loss, forcing a Falcons' punt.
Winfield consistently flew to the football, wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage with instinctual play. He recorded eight tackles (team-high), added 1.0 sack, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble. Since Pro-Football-Reference data became available (1999), Winfield became the 14th defensive back in the NFL to record a game with one-or-more sacks, forced fumbles and passes defensed, plus two-or-more tackles for loss. He became the first player to record such a game since San Francisco's K'Waun Williams on 12/26/20 at Arizona. The do-it-all disruptor spurred the defensive onslaught and set the tone inside Raymond James Stadium. From stifling the run in the backfield, to lining up as the deep safety to break up a play-action lob from Mariota, Winfield fueled the Bucs' ascendancy.
"I say it all the time – he's an old-school football player," Bowles smiled. "He just loves to play the game – he smiles when he's out there, he understands it, he plays fast, he loves it. If he could be out there 24 hours a day, he probably would."