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Bucs-Falcons live updates: Tampa Bay rallies to win

The Bucs come back from a 17-point, second-half deficit to win on Tom Brady’s TD pass to Antonio Brown.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]
Published Dec. 20, 2020
Updated Dec. 21, 2020

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The Bucs rallied from a 17-point, second-half deficit to defeat the Falcons 31-27 Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Tampa Bay trailed 17-0 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter before storming back with 31 second-half points.

The Bucs improved to 9-5 and edged closer to their first playoff berth in 13 seasons.

The Falcons, in what has been a season-long storyline, blew yet another big lead to fall to 4-10.

Tampa Bay went ahead for the first time on Tom Brady’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with just over six minutes remaining in the game.

After being held to 70 passing yards in the first half, Brady finished with 390 on 31-of-45 passing. He threw touchdown passes to Brown and Chris Godwin.

Mike Evans led all Bucs receivers with six catches for 110 yards. Brown had five receptions for 93 yards.

With Ronald Jones sidelined, Leonard Fournette rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

Inside linebacker Devin White had a monster game to lead the Bucs’ defense, with 10 tackles, two assists and four tackles for loss, including three sacks.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was 34-of-49 for 356 yards and three touchdowns. Calvin Ridley had 10 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.

After allowing points on four of Atlanta’s first six drives, Tampa Bay’s defense limited the Falcons to a field goal over the final five, forcing three punts and a turnover on downs.

Bucs take first lead of game

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after a second-half touchdown.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after a second-half touchdown. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

The Bucs take a 31-27 lead, their first of the game, on Tom Brady’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with just over six minutes remaining.

After trailing by 17 at halftime, the Bucs scored 31 points in the second half, scoring on their first five drives.

Falcons briefly regain lead

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo leaves the field after the first half.
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo leaves the field after the first half. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

After blowing a 17-point, third-quarter advantage, the Falcons retook the lead, 27-24, on Younghoe Koo’s 52-yard field goal with just over 8 minutes remaining in the game.

Bucs erase 17-point Falcons lead

The Bucs' Ryan Succop (3) kicks an extra point during the second half.
The Bucs' Ryan Succop (3) kicks an extra point during the second half. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

After a questionable penalty call on special teams early in the fourth quarter gave them great field position, the Bucs wasted no time taking advantage.

The Falcons’ Tyler Hall was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit after being blocked from behind into punt returner Kenjon Barner. The offsetting penalties resulted in a re-kick, and Barner returned Sterling Hofrichter’s punt 22 yards to the 50.

The Bucs drove 41 yards in eight plays and tied the game 24-24 on Ryan Succop’s 27-yard field goal with 11:10 to play in the game.

Brady had completions of 13 yards to Antonio Brown, 11 to Mike Evans and 9 to Chris Godwin on the drive.

Bucs trim deficit to 3

Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (28) runs with the ball during the second half.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (28) runs with the ball during the second half. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

After forcing the Falcons to go three-and-out, the Bucs were right back on the move near the end of the third quarter, Tom Brady hitting tight end Rob Gronkowski with a back-shoulder throw for 17 yards to the Tampa Bay 41.

Two plays later, Brady found Scotty Miller for 14 yards to the Atlanta 45. The Falcons challenged the call, believing Miller fumbled at the end of the play. But a replay review determined that Miller’s knee was down before the ball came out.

Tampa Bay picked up 28 yards to the 17 when Atlanta was called for pass interference and face-masking on the same play.

Short passes to Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown moved the ball to the 1, and Fournette scored from there to trim the Bucs’ deficit to 24-21 as the third quarter came to a close.

Bucs back to within 10

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) can't make a catch during the first half.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) can't make a catch during the first half. [ DANNY KARNIK | AP ]

Tom Brady is heating up.

After accumulating just 70 passing yards in the first half, the Bucs quarterback led his team to touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half.

His 4-yard scoring pass to Chris Godwin on a slant pattern brought Tampa Bay back to within 24-14 with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter.

Brady hooked up with Mike Evans twice on the drive for 50 yards. He also had a 16-yard completion to running back Leonard Fournette.

Falcons answer Bucs’ touchdown

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) embraces tight end Hayden Hurst (81) after Hurst in the third quarter.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) embraces tight end Hayden Hurst (81) after Hurst in the third quarter. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

About four minutes after the Bucs’ touchdown, the Falcons responded with one of their own.

Matt Ryan’s 7-yard pass to Hayden Hurst gave Atlanta a 24-7 lead with under 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Ryan was 5-of-5 on the drive, including completions of 28 and 13 yards to Calvin Ridley and 14 to Russell Gage.

Bucs get on the board

Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (28) runs past Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) during the first half.
Bucs running back Leonard Fournette (28) runs past Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) during the first half. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

The Bucs looked like a different team to start the second half, driving 80 yards on seven plays to score their first touchdown of the game.

Tampa Bay accumulated more yards on the drive than it did in the entire first half.

Leonard Fournette ran 1 yard over left guard to trim the Bucs’ deficit to 17-7 less than four minutes into the third quarter.

Tom Brady completed passes of 32 yards to Mike Evans, 20 to Antonio Brown and 14 to Cameron Brate on the drive.

Brady was 3-of-4 on the drive for 66 yards. Fournette picked up the other 14 on three carries.

Bucs trail 17-0 at halftime

Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis (24) breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) late in the second quarter.
Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis (24) breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) late in the second quarter. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

Traveling almost exclusively through the air, the Falcons drove 75 yards in the closing minutes of the first half to take a 17-0 lead over the Bucs on Younghoe Koo’s 32-yard field goal.

Koo’s field goal with 18 seconds remaining in the half was his 26th straight successful attempt.

Matt Ryan completed passes of 18 and 14 yards to Calvin Ridley, 15 to Russell Gage and 12 to Hayden Hurst as the Falcons moved the ball from the Atlanta 11 to the Tampa Bay 14.

Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis broke up a pass for Gage in the back right corner of the end zone on third-and-11, saving a touchdown.

Ryan finished the half 23-of-31 for 235 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons held a 261-60 advantage in total yards and 17:38 to 12:22 in time of possession.

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady completed 10 of 16 passes for 70 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Sack short circuits Bucs drive

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) sacks Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) earlier in the first half.
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) sacks Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) earlier in the first half. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

The Bucs, down 14, started to generate some offense midway through the second quarter, driving 32 yards to the Falcons 43.

But safety Sharrod Neasman sacked Tom Brady for a 9-yard loss on third-and-9, and the Bucs were forced to punt.

Earlier in the drive, Brady connected with wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans on 10-yard completions that resulted in first downs.

Gamble pays off for Falcons

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) makes a touchdown catch in front of Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) during the first half.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) makes a touchdown catch in front of Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) during the first half. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

The Falcons took a big gamble early in the second quarter, and it paid off with points.

Facing fourth-and-2 from the Bucs’ 46, Atlanta went for the first down. Matt Ryan rolled to his right and found Russell Gage over the middle for seven yards to the 39.

The Falcons gained momentum from the play, as Ryan connected with fullback Keith Smith for 13 yards and Laquon Treadwell for 14 to move the ball to the 12.

Ryan’s 12-yard pass to Calvin Ridley in the front left corner of the end zone put Atlanta ahead 14-0 with just under 8 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Bucs defense stems the bleeding

Bucs safety Mike Edwards breaks up a pass for Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley during the first half.
Bucs safety Mike Edwards breaks up a pass for Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley during the first half. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

The Falcons seemed poised to add to their seven-point lead when they drove to the Bucs’ 45 on their second possession of the game.

One play after quarterback Matt Ryan scrambled for 16 yards and a first down at the Atlanta 30, Ryan hit tight end Luke Stocker for a 25-yard gain.

But the Bucs managed to stem the bleeding as linebackers Devin White and Shaquil Barrett stopped running back Brian Hill for a 4-yard loss, backing the Falcons up to the Bucs 49, and Atlanta was forced to punt.

Completion upends Bucs’ opening drive

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) works from the pocket during the first quarter.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) works from the pocket during the first quarter. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

The Bucs got off to a good start on their opening drive, as Tom Brady found tight end Cameron Brate for 14 yards and a first down at the Tampa Bay 45.

But the drive was short circuited two plays later, when a short pass from Brady to running back Leonard Fournette resulted in an 8-yard loss.

A 14-yard completion from Brady to running back LeSean McCoy was four yards short of the first-down marker, and the Bucs were forced to punt.

Atlanta grabs early 7-0 lead

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed all six of his attempts during Atlanta's opening drive.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed all six of his attempts during Atlanta's opening drive. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]

The Falcons wasted no time jumping out to an early lead against the Bucs, driving 75 yards on their opening possession to go ahead 7-0.

Matt Ryan’s 5-yard pass to Russell Gage in the left side of the end zone capped an eight-play drive.

Ryan went 6-for-6 on the drive for 71 yards.

The big play was a 27-yard completion to Gage to the Bucs’ 5. One play earlier, Brady connected with Calvin Ridley for a 23-yard gain.

A 10-yard pass from Ryan to running back Todd Gurley on third-and-9 from the Atlanta 26 helped to extend the drive.

Avoiding bad losses could put Bucs in playoffs

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms us before the game.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) warms us before the game. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

If the Bucs have done nothing else this season, they have improved in one critical area.

They have consistently beaten the teams they were supposed to beat.

Simply by doing that, they have all but assured their first postseason berth in more than a decade.

With the exception of an early-season loss to the Bears (6-7), it has been the elite teams — the Saints (10-3), Chiefs (12-1) and Rams (9-4) — that have tripped them up.

Fortunately, the Bucs’ (8-5) remaining road to their first playoff berth in 13 seasons is littered with also-rans: two games against the Falcons (4-9) and one against the Lions (5-8), both who fired their head coaches earlier this season.

Not to say that this afternoon’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will be easy.

The Falcons have lost six games by a touchdown or less and three by three or fewer points. They blew significant fourth-quarter leads in early-season losses to the Cowboys and Bears, contributing to an 0-5 start that cost head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff their jobs.

The Falcons own convincing wins over the playoff-contending Vikings and Raiders — 43-6 — and have gone 4-4 since ex-Bucs head coach Raheem Morris took over as interim head coach.

Plus, you’ve got to think Morris’ players will be motivated to beat the team that fired their coach in 2011 after three up-and-down seasons.

In the absence of running back Ronald Jones and tackle Donovan Smith, who were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week, Tampa Bay will turn to veterans Leonard Fournette and Josh Wells.

Will it be enough to slow the Bucs’ roll? Or will they continue to do what they’ve been doing against inferior competition?

Follow our live updates, starting at 1 p.m., as the Bucs rev up their run to the postseason.

Pregame scene

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A little light reading

Here’s some of our content leading up to today’s game:

Raheem Morris has finally grown into the job of NFL head coach

Best NFL teams get hot when the temperatures plunge

Bucs’ sack attack is in high gear with this pass rush duo

Decision not to call plays health-related, Bruce Arians acknowledges

Three Bucs specialists should return for Sunday’s game at Atlanta

Bucs feel fortunate to lean on running back Leonard Fournette

First-quarter futility becoming a chronic issue for Bucs’ offense

Ronald Jones is fourth Bucs player on reserve/COVID-19 list

Value of Bucs rookie Tristan Wirfs only starting to spike

Is it finally (Scotty) Miller time for the Bucs?