ATLANTA — When the Falcons opened the second half with a touchdown to take a 27-6 lead, it was their fifth score in six possessions.
It looked like another rout, and yet the Bucs made enough plays to give the Falcons a scare Sunday before falling 34-20.
Tampa Bay nearly tied the game, getting to the Atlanta 19 with seven minutes left before coming up short on a fourth-and-1.
"The fight that those guys show every week, I’ll always appreciate and respect that," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led touchdown drives of 70 and 80 yards.
With Doug Martin sidelined by a concussion, backup Peyton Barber had two short TD runs to make it 27-20.
As Atlanta looked to score again, rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith forced a fumble inside the 10 that Brent Grimes scooped up and returned to the Bucs 42.
"We’re not going to quit. We’re a bunch of prideful guys in here," Grimes said. "It still didn’t go how we wanted it to, but we competed down until the end, and that’s something to hang our hat on."
The Falcons famously lost a 28-3 lead in last year’s Super Bowl against the Patriots and led the Dolphins 17-0 in the second half of a game they lost this season.
The Falcons looked to be on the verge of another collapse Sunday with the Bucs in the red zone after running back Jacquizz Rodgers went 8 yards, with 34-year-old Fitzpatrick blocking downfield.
Facing a second-and-2, the Bucs threw three times, getting a yard closer on third down. Fitzpatrick missed a throw to Cameron Brate on fourth down.
Atlanta got a late touchdown to pull away for the win, but the Bucs took some solace in how they were able to make it a game late.
"No matter the score at halftime, we were going to fight our tails off to get back in the game," Beckwith said. "I think we did that, and we were able to bring the game back into reach. We just have to finish at the end."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.