The final turning point in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 35-22 win over the Falcons took place in Atlanta but ultimately needed a stamp of approval from New York.
Though both teams sported 3-7 records, the Buccaneers went into Atlanta as underdogs, likely due to the two-week hot streak the Falcons had to put together over road trips to New Orleans and Charlotte. Atlanta beat the Saints and Panthers by a combined score of 55-12, allowing zero touchdowns and racking up 11 sacks. The Buccaneers had to prove that their high-powered but sometimes mistake-prone offense could crack the Falcons' new-look defense.
It didn't start out well, as Winston's first and sixth passes of the game were both intercepted, helping Atlanta build a 10-7 lead. As it turned out, however, it was the
Buccaneers' defense that ruled the day, racking up six sacks, 13 quarterback hits and a remarkable 16 passes defensed. The Buccaneers took the lead for good midway through the second quarter, but that's not necessarily when they put the game away.
This season, we're looking for that final Turning Point in every game. After each Buccaneers contest we're going to find the moment when things swung in favor of the eventual winner and never swung back. We're going to do so using the "win probability" charts on ESPN.com. At any given point in the game, that chart displays the percentage that each team could be expected to win, based on data from similar situations in thousands of historical games. Unless one team gets above 50% at the very beginning of the game and never dips below that mark, there is going to be a single point where the team that eventually wins goes from underdog to favorite for the final time.
Week 12 Turning Point: Breshad Perriman Taps Both Feet Inbounds for a 44-yard Gain
Outcome: Tampa Bay 35, Atlanta 22
· Falcons kick a field goal (Younghoe Koo) at 12:47 of the first quarter for a 3-0 lead
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Chris Godwin reception) at 6:45 of the first quarter for a 7-3 lead
· Falcons score a touchdown (Qadree Ollison run) at 0:46 of the first quarter for a 10-7 lead
· Buccaneers score a touchdown (Chris Godwin reception, PAT no good) at 7:55 of the second quarter for a 13-10 lead
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 12 matchup against Atlanta.
The ESPN win probability chart showed Atlanta as having a 66.5% chance of winning even before the Buccaneers' opening kickoff, so the visitors had some work to do to coax that line up towards the middle stripe. Atlanta's win probability peaked at 75.8% after Desmond Trufant's interception of Winston's first pass appeared to give the home team a chance to add to its early 3-0 lead. It didn't get any worse because Tampa Bay's defense was able to force a punt, but the line stayed solidly on Atlanta's side until Chris Godwin broke free for a 71-yard touchdown.
That put the Bucs in the lead but didn't quite make them the favorites; the line didn't cross over to the Bucs side until Atlanta's offense fell into a third-and-three a few plays later. That made the Bucs' 51.3% favorites, and that lasted all of one play until Matt Ryan converted that third down with a 31-yard pass to Julio Jones. The odds instantly switched back to 57.4% in favor of Atlanta.
The Bucs briefly got the line back on their side on Atlanta's next third down, and it nudged up to 52.0% after Atlanta's punt. All it took to push it back, though, was a deep incompletion in the direction of Mike Evans, and then it slid to 62.8% in Atlanta's favor one play later on De'Vondre Campbell's interception at Tampa Bay's 19. The Falcons got the probability back over 70% in their favor one more time when that turnover led to a touchdown and the Bucs' subsequent drive ended on a two-yard scramble by Winston on third-and-four.
The Bucs got the lead back but not quite the blessing of the win probability chart on Godwin's second touchdown with 7:55 left in the first half. It wasn't until one big play significantly improved the Bucs' chances of building on their lead before halftime that the line finally crossed over to Tampa Bay's side for good.
A Falcons punt and a penalty on the Bucs' return team forced Tampa Bay to start at its own five-yard line with a little under five minutes to go in the second quarter. Barber's first-down run went for three yards but he was stuffed for no gain on second down. After that second run, the Bucs were facing a third-and-seven deep in their own end and the Falcons were considered 52.1% favorites despite being behind on the scoreboard.
On third-and-seven, however, Winston bought time by scrambling up and to the right, and that also gave the Falcons' defense time to lose track of Breshad Perriman. Winston found him but Perriman's route and Winston's on-the-move throw had dragged him perilously close to the Falcons' sideline. Perriman made the catch with his back to the sideline and, by estimation of the nearest officials, was able to tap one foot and then the other before he fell on his back out of bounds. Nearby Falcons personnel waved their arms emphatically to claim the catch was no good, and the Buccaneers' offense hustled up to midfield to try to get the next snap up. The Falcons made a quick decision to throw their challenge flag before that could happen.
And so it was that the NFL's central replay system had to review Perriman's catch. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, the call stood, as did the 44-yard gain to Atlanta's 48. Another downfield strike to Godwin took it down to Atlanta's three and, with 44 seconds left in the half, the Bucs scored on a tricky play that sent 347-pound defensive lineman Vita Vea, ostensibly in as a goal-line blocker, out into a shallow end zone route for a one-yard touchdown pass.
That score gave the Bucs a nine-point lead and Atlanta would never get any closer. But it was the Perriman catch that swung the pendulum to Tampa Bay's sideline for the final time. Immediately after that grab, the Buccaneers were considered to be 59.3% favorites.