1. Secondary proves age is just a number.
Going into Atlanta to face a red-hot Falcons team that includes the likes of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as part of the league's third-best passing offense is a daunting task for any defense. Consider how young the Bucs' secondary is, with its oldest starter being just 23 years old, and some may say that task could be a little too challenging for the young players.
Well, challenge accepted.
The Bucs defense finished with 16 passes defensed. It's the most by any team this season and the most since the New Orleans Saints did it in 2017. The last time in recent memory (the last two decades) the Bucs have even come close to that number was in Week Two of the 2012 season against the New York Giants when they broke up 15 passes. Most of the batted down balls came from the back end. 'Veteran' (second-year) cornerback Carlton Davis and rookie Jamel Deal each had five – career-highs for both players. It was Dean's third game this season with four or more passes defensed, the most of any player in the league. He has 13 total on the season in just three games where he saw significant snaps, which ties him for the second-most in the league. Davis nabbed himself his first career interception as part of his stat line when he flat out ripped a ball from Atlanta receiver Calvin Ridley. Davis has 12 total pass breakups this season – not a bad total himself.
As a result, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed just 50% of his passes, going 23-of-46 for 271 yards and no touchdowns for a passer rating of 59.2.
That wasn't all because of the secondary, though. The guys on the back end were helped tremendously by the Bucs' pass rush and the front seven. Ryan was sacked six times – twice by rookie inside linebacker Devin White to give him his first (and second) full sack of his career. It made him the first rookie to record multiple sacks in a single game since Gerald McCoy did it in 2010. Defensive tackle Vita Vea also got a sack and batted down two of those 16 passes defensed. Plus, he did this.
Vea wasn't even the only defensive tackle to score a touchdown, either. After outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul strip sacked Ryan in the fourth quarter, Ndamukong Suh picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for the dagger. It was his second scoop-and-score of the season after doing it in Week Four in LA. He's just the second player in team history to return two fumbles for touchdowns. The other one was Ronde Barber. In the end, it was a total effort by the Bucs' defense from every level.
2. Offensive line created cohesion for the entire offense.
The defense weren't the only ones working together – the other side of the ball did a pretty great job of that too thanks in large part to the big men up front. They didn't let up a sack of quarterback Jameis Winston all game.
They also were able to open up some running lanes for Bucs' backs. Running back Ronald Jones had a 4.3-yard-per-carry average with a long of 25 yards. His first carry of the game went for 11 yards.
Those two things have a domino effect for the entire offense. The run game slows the Falcons' pass rush because they have to respect the run. When the pass rush is slowed, it allows for more time in the pocket for Winston, which lets longer plays develop. Plays like the 71-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, for instance. When Winston isn't under pressure, he has more time to make decisions and therefore, makes better ones. He stumbled a bit early but regained his composure thanks to the line doing their job and finished with a passer rating of 108.2 after throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
3. Bucs receivers went off.
Or should I say 'awf.'
Good protection and a complementary run game make for very happy receivers. Knowing Mike Evans needed just seven yards to get to 1,000 on the season and therefore become just the second player in NFL history to record six such seasons to start his career, the Falcons paid Evans a lot of attention early on. Whatever. Winston just threw the ball to Chris Godwin instead. In fact, Godwin eclipsed 1,000 yards before Evans did, catching for 151 yards and two touchdowns before the first half was even over. It's a first for Godwin, in his second year, and I think it's now safe to say 2019 is officially #12SZN.
Back to Evans. It was a bit delayed thanks to some double coverage by the Falcons' secondary but finally, Evans got his first completion in the second quarter. On third-and-nine just before the two-minute warning, Winston connected with Evans for a 17-yard pass, thereby eclipsing 1,000 yards. The last time the Bucs had two 1,000-yard receivers was when Evans and Vincent Jackson did it during Evans' rookie year in 2014. That was also the first time the Bucs had ever had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. This year, Evans and Godwin are by far the best receiving duo in the league. Godwin's nine receiving touchdowns lead the league and Evans is in the top five with seven. The pair, who rank second and third, are bested in receiving yards individually by only Michael Thomas.
Get them both to the Pro Bowl.