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Devin White gives listless Bucs defense life with huge second half

The second-year linebacker has three sacks of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the final nine minutes.
Bucs inside linebacker Devin White (45) closes on Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) during the first half of Tampa Bay's 31-27 triumph at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Bucs inside linebacker Devin White (45) closes on Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) during the first half of Tampa Bay's 31-27 triumph at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. [ DANNY KARNIK | AP ]
Published Dec. 20, 2020|Updated Dec. 21, 2020

Sunday afternoon’s resuscitation of the Bucs began, in part, with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles essentially defibrillating the young heart of his unit.

“Coach Bowles ... kept saying, ‘Lead us, lead us. Keep leading us,’” second-year inside linebacker Devin White said.

“And he came to me and said, ‘You’re about to take over the game.’ I said, ‘I know, I feel it. It’s going to be my night, I’m going finish it out for us.’”

If the Bucs (9-5) can somehow learn to commence a game the way they closed Sunday’s 31-27 triumph in Atlanta, a playoff run seems far more plausible. During that final stretch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, few closed with more fury than White.

Three of his team-high 12 tackles came via sacks in the final nine minutes. Perhaps the most critical: a third-and-6 blitz of Matt Ryan that forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal, one play after rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. lunged to deflect a Ryan pass in the end zone for Calvin Ridley.

The Bucs responded with Tom Brady’s winning 46-yard scoring strike to Antonio Brown.

Two other White sacks would follow, both deep in Falcons territory, to help seal a comeback from a 17-point halftime deficit. White now has eight sacks on the season and 10.5 for his career.

“He’s so quick,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “When he sees the gap, man, he can shoot it, and (he) got (Ryan) on the ground (three) times. They were big, big sacks.”

Rookie deflects Falcons’ momentum

Bucs strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) breaks up a pass intended receiver Calvin Ridley (18) in the end zone during the second half of Tampa Bay's 31-27 triumph.
Bucs strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) breaks up a pass intended receiver Calvin Ridley (18) in the end zone during the second half of Tampa Bay's 31-27 triumph. [ DANNY KARNIK | AP ]

Speaking of Winfield, his play preceding the White sack drew raves from Fox analyst Daryl Johnston and helped alter momentum.

With the Falcons facing second-and-6 from the Bucs 27, Winfield followed Ridley (10 catches, 163 yards, one TD) on a sail route to the right corner of the end zone, lunging to deflect Ryan’s pass with his left hand just as it approached Ridley’s midsection.

“He had a hell of a break on that ball,” Arians said.

“Ridley had come all the way across the field, and (Winfield) beat him across. He’s a heck of a player. He read his eyes and saw where he was going. That ball’s going to be in the air for a while, (but) he didn’t panic. A lot of time (defensive backs) will panic, and they can’t run as fast. He doesn’t panic, he just goes and makes the play.”

They’re clean, if not convincing

The Bucs’ comeback was abetted in part by another performance nearly devoid of blemishes. The Bucs had no turnovers and were whistled for only one penalty, a Ryan Smith block in the back on a fourth-quarter punt return.

And even that was offset when Tyler Hall was flagged for lowering his head on returner Kenjon Barner. The Bucs have gone two consecutive games without a turnover, totaling six penalties in those eight quarters.

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“Our discipline is paying off for us,” Arians said. “We do dig holes, but we stay disciplined and find ways to win.”

Odds and ends

Brady now is 7-0 in his career against the Falcons, with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. ... Mike Evans (six receptions, 110 yards) notched his third 100-yard receiving effort of the season and 27th of his career — fourth-most in the NFL since the start of 2014. ... Chris Godwin’s third-quarter touchdown reception was the 21st of his career, moving him into 10th place on the franchise’s career list.

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