Bucs-Falcons report card: Why did Bucs pass three times in four-down territory?

Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published November 26 2017
Updated November 26 2017

ATLANTA — This might be the nicest stadium in the NFL. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium — not to be confused with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — is as swanky as it gets. The coolest feature is the circular scoreboard that seems to hang from the sky.

But as pretty as this stadium is, it was a house of horrors for the Bucs on Sunday, especially the defense. That fancy scoreboard showed replay after replay of Falcons receiver Julio Jones torching the Bucs. That was the worst part of a day that didn’t go well for Tampa Bay. With that in mind, Times columnist Tom Jones hands out his grades from the Falcons’ 34-20 victory.

GOING FOR IT

A critical call came with just over seven minutes left and the Bucs trailing 27-20. They faced a fourth-and-1 (after having second-and-2) from the Atlanta 18. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter decided to go for it, but a medium-range pass over the middle intended for tight end Cameron Brate fell incomplete.

First, the decision to go for it when a field goal would have cut the lead to 27-23.

"We had momentum at that time,’’ Koetter said. "Getting a field goal and being down by four, are we going to stop them? Not stop them? We were playing pretty good on offense. We were moving the football. We made a decision that if we didn’t get it on third down, we’d go for it on fourth.’’

Which leads to this question: If the Bucs knew it was four-down territory when it was second-and-2, why throw three consecutive passes? That’s what happened. A pass into the end zone for DeSean Jackson was incomplete. Then Adam Humphries caught a 1-yard pass.

That set up the fourth-down play. Now about that play call.

"I thought it was a really good play call,’’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "I wish I would have been able to execute it better. That’s a play as a quarterback you love to hear a coach has some confidence in you to go out and do it. Just didn’t get it done.’’

Koetter took the heat for the play.

"I told the players I should have given them a better play,’’ Koetter said. "It didn’t work, so that’s on me.’’

The Bucs didn’t stop Atlanta on the ensuing drive, so maybe it’s a moot point. But going for it and not getting it was a low point. GRADE: D.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES

Look out, Julio Jones just caught another pass. Even Bucs fans had to respect the day the Falcons receiver had: 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. At one point in the third quarter, Jones had more total yards (176) than the Bucs (173). GRADE: A+

MIKE CHECK

Mike Evans is a heck of a receiver for the Bucs. Pound-for-pound, he might be the best football player on the team. But do you ever notice how few yards he gets after the catch? He now has 51 catches, but his yards after catch is a mere 108, according to The Football Database. Maybe it’s not all his doing, but should that number be higher? Like way higher? GRADE: C.

HE’S PERFECT

A shoutout to Atlanta receiver Mohamed Sanu. His 51-yard touchdown pass to Jones out of the wildcat was the play of the day. And check this out: Sanu has a perfect QB rating of 158.3. In his career as a passer, he is 6-for-6 for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Want more? He’s the first player to have 50 yards receiving and 50 yards passing in the same game since he did it three years go. Then, he was playing for the Bengals and he did it against the Falcons. How about that? GRADE: A.

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