TAMPA — Seconds before arguably the biggest play of his six-plus NFL seasons, Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches was providing a verbal spark to his peers, an air of confidence oozing off his every syllable.
“He was doing it a lot in that game, getting us going,” outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said.
What followed was a blend of foresight and ferocity converging for one of the biggest plays of the Bucs’ 48-25 triumph Sunday.
His team leading only by three early in the fourth, Nunez-Roches lined up in the three-technique spot next to nose tackle Steve McLendon. When Falcons tailback Cordarrelle Patterson took a Matt Ryan handoff on third and 1, he was met instantly by the burly Belize native, who stuffed Patterson for a 3-yard loss to the Atlanta 10.
A mediocre Falcons punt followed, and Tom Brady hit Chris Godwin for a 12-yard scoring pass three plays later, giving Tampa Bay a 35-25 lead.
Prior to that possession, the Falcons had scored consecutive touchdowns. The tackle for loss essentially altered the game’s momentum for good.
“I’ve seen that play before and I’ve seen that formation,” Nunez-Roches said. “So once I saw what the guard was trying to do, I was like, ‘Okay, I know what to do and I’m going to get off the ball.’ It happened the right way and I love it.”
With Sunday’s triumph, the Bucs — in their 46th season of existence — achieved only the ninth 2-0 start in franchise history.
“With a lot of room to improve,” coach Bruce Arians added.
Only twice in the previous decade (2010 and 2018) did the Bucs win their first two, and failed to make the playoffs in either year. Still, history suggests those teams represent an aberration.
Since the NFL expanded its playoff format in 1990, more than 60 percent of teams who start 2-0 ultimately reach the postseason.
By the numbers
2 Pass-interference penalties whistled against the Falcons in the end zone. Both resulted in 1-yard Brady scoring passes (to Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans) on the ensuing play.
3 Consecutive games in which Gronkowski has caught at least two touchdown passes, tying the NFL’s longest streak by a tight end.
35 Games in which Brady has thrown four or more touchdowns, tying Peyton Manning for the second-most such games in NFL history.
114 Touchdown passes Brady has thrown since his 41st birthday, including the postseason (according to Football Perspective).
109 Touchdown passes thrown in the entire history of the NFL by all other quarterbacks, combined, after turning 41.
100 Games played by tight end Cameron Brate in a Bucs uniform. He is the franchise’s 45th player to reach that mark.
Final Gronk factoid
The outset of the 2021 season marks the second time Gronkowski has had four or more receiving touchdowns in the first two weeks of a season, according to Pro Football Reference. He is the first player at any position to achieve the feat twice in his career.
“I think what people don’t realize, he is an elite blocker,” Brady said.
“And what he does in terms of the red area, third down, blocking in the run game, every run’s available because you can run behind him. Catches the ball down the field, catches the ball short, run after catch, incredible hands — and that’s why he’s got one of those maroon jackets for one of the best 100 players in the history of the game.”
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.