Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Yes, the Bucs really beat the Super Bowl-bound Falcons?

TAMPA — You remember the first time anybody saw the Atlanta Falcons in a game that mattered this season?

A quarterback threw four touchdown passes and looked like the league MVP. A big, fast wide receiver was unstoppable. The defense swarmed to the football like ants to a picnic. They were everybody's chic pick to win the NFC South and maybe go to Super Bowl. ESPN, NFLN and all the alphabet networks kept fawning over them.

Wait, it was the Bucs who actually beat Atlanta 31-24 in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 11.

That happened, right?

Remember, Dirk Koetter went to the podium afterward and immediately declared, "Good guys win!"

Well, forget it because those same Falcons are playing in Super Bowl LI in Houston against the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, Koetter and general manager Jason Licht are scouting the Senior Bowl.

Winston vs. Mariota: Who won 2016?

So what happened?

"Well, it's really difficult to win one game in this league. It really is," said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. "Honestly, it's tough. And to string together and keep guys healthy, and to get the opportunity and to be playing your best at the right time, there are a lot of things that have to go into it."

And the Bucs?

They won the season opener in Atlanta when Jameis Winston threw four touchdown passes.

They still got off to a 3-5 start.

They were tied with the Falcons for the division lead with three games to play.

And they finished 9-7.

For the NFC Champions, their recovery from that season-opening loss was swift but not complete until sometime after the bye week.

The Falcons won four straight —- at Oakland (35-28), at New Orleans (45-32), home against Carolina (48-33) and at Denver (23-16). Unfortunately for Atlanta, that was followed by losses at Seattle (26-24) and an overtime loss against the Chargers (33-30) at home.

During that stretch, the Falcons defense allowed nearly 28 points per game.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) is all smiles following a victory in the first regular season game of the year between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016.

Let's be clear, this not the same Falcons team that the Bucs played in Week 1.

They led the NFL by averaging nearly 34 points per game. That explosiveness with Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman was evident all season, but the precision has improved.

Atlanta and New England committed the NFL's fewest turnovers with 11.

The Falcons defense made the biggest strides under coach Dan Quinn, who brought the system from Seattle where he served as the Seahawks defensive coordinator. Six of 11 starters are first- and second-year players.

Winston hit deep balls to Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the opener. Charles Sims had a 23-yard catch and run for a TD.

But against the Bucs in Atlanta, safety Keanu Neal, Falcons first-round pick from Florida, was out with a knee injury. Cornerback Jalen Collins was suspended for violating the league policy on performance enhancing drugs. Collins who had an interception and forced a fumble against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.

"He had a difficult start to the season, and much like some other players, you get those opportunities, and when you take advantage of them and you come through, it just builds confidence," Quinn said.

Rick Stroud: Early Falcons-Patriots storylines

The Falcons lost defensive tackle Derrick Shelby, who started against Tampa Bay, to an Achilles injury after six games. But veteran Dwight Freeney stepped in and has three sacks.

Coincidentally, the Falcons turnaround on defense sort of mirrored the Bucs. After the game, they talked about improved communication and a better understanding of the scheme, allowing linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell to play faster.

And then there's the injury factor: Tampa Bay running backs Doug Martin and Sims missed a combined 15 games. Atlanta was the only team to have all five offensive linemen start every game.

"The improvement is a byproduct of everyone growing," Quinn said. "And we're playing faster now."

And on Super Bowl Sunday, the Falcons will still be playing.

   
Comments
Buccaneers AfterMath: Tampa Bay’s defense is raising red flags

Buccaneers AfterMath: Tampa Bay’s defense is raising red flags

You might have walked away from the game Monday night feeling pretty good about your Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, the first half was about as ugly as it gets. After the Steelers returned Ryan Fitzpatrick’s third interception for a touchdown late...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Eduardo A. Encina joins the Times to cover the Bucs

Eduardo A. Encina joins the Times to cover the Bucs

ST. PETERSBURG — Eduardo A. Encina, an award-winning sportswriter with an extensive background covering Tampa Bay sports, is returning to the Times to cover the Bucs.Encina will join Rick Stroud, Thomas Bassinger and columnists Tom Jones and Ma...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy heard apologizing to Ben Roethlisberger mid-hit

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy heard apologizing to Ben Roethlisberger mid-hit

For all of his accomplishments on the field, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been criticized throughout his career for being too nice.One moment during Monday's 30-27 loss to the Steelers isn't going to help him in that regard.Still,...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Did Ryan Fitzpatrick do enough to keep his job?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Did Ryan Fitzpatrick do enough to keep his job?

Rick Stroud and Times sports columnist Tom Jones break down the Bucs' 30-27 loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football.Ryan Fitzpatrick  had a difficult first half, throwing three interceptions, but  led a second-half comeback that ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
The magic has worn off. Time for the Bucs to start Jameis Winston

The magic has worn off. Time for the Bucs to start Jameis Winston

TAMPA — So this will be a fun and interesting week over at One Buc Place.Who's the quarterback?That question will be asked a few times. The likely answer will end up being Ryan Fitzpatrick.But this question will be asked a few dozen times:...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Winston or Fitzpatrick? Reading between the lines in the Bucs locker room

Winston or Fitzpatrick? Reading between the lines in the Bucs locker room

TAMPA — At some point Tuesday morning, Jameis Winston will walk into the office of head coach Dirk Koetter and get the news.There will likely be hugs and handshakes, but within the first few minutes, Koetter will tell Winston what his role will...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Why the Bucs kept going to Chris Godwin

Why the Bucs kept going to Chris Godwin

TAMPA  — Chris Godwin's first three quarters Monday night weren't as rough as Ryan Fitzpatrick's, but they were close.Through 45 minutes of Tampa Bay's 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh, Godwin dropped two touchdown passes, had another TD reception...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bucs-Steelers report card: There is still work to be done

Bucs-Steelers report card: There is still work to be done

TAMPA — They couldn't stick the landing. The FitzMagic ran out.Monday night against the Steelers, Tony Dungy night, was supposed to be the coming-out party, a new beginning, the Bucs on national TV, showing America that 2-0 was not make believe...
Published: 09/25/18
Bucs-Steelers: No wrong answer for Tampa Bay at quarterback

Bucs-Steelers: No wrong answer for Tampa Bay at quarterback

TAMPA — So this should be a fun week over at One Buc Place.Who's the quarterback?That question will be asked a few times this week.This question will be asked a few dozen times:Who should be the quarterback?The debate will rage on. We'll talk a...
Published: 09/25/18
Bucs-Steelers: Tony Dungy gave us more than wins

Bucs-Steelers: Tony Dungy gave us more than wins

TAMPA — Monday night belonged to Tony Dungy. The former Bucs coach was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dungy's first NFL team.If it seemed strange that an NFL club would honor a ma...
Published: 09/25/18