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Tom Brady passed for five touchdowns, giving him nine in two games, and Mike Edwards returned two interceptions for touchdowns as the Bucs pulled away from the Falcons 48-25 in their NFC South opener Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans each caught two touchdown passes, and Chris Godwin had another as Tampa Bay improved to 2-0.
The Bucs led by three in the fourth quarter before Godwin’s touchdown reception and Edwards’ pair of pick-sixes turned a three-point lead into a 23-point victory in a matter of minutes.
Brady was 24-of-36 for 276 yards and the five scores. He did not throw an interception. He completed passes to 10 different receivers, led by Evans (5 receptions, 75 yards), Godwin (4 receptions, 62 yards) and Gronkowski (4 receptions, 39 yards).
Leonard Fournette ran for 52 yards on 11 carries and caught four passes for another 24 yards.
Cornerback Carlton Davis, with nine tackles, including eight unassisted, and inside linebacker Lavonte David (eight total tackles) led the defense. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett intercepted a pass and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh recorded a sack.
Inside linebacker Devin White had an apparent fumble return for a touchdown negated by an offside penalty against Barrett.
Here’s how it happened:
Tightening their grip
Up 16 with just over five minutes remaining, the Bucs reasserted their control by forcing a turnover on downs to get the ball back at the Falcons 43.
With Devin White in coverage, Matt Ryan threw incomplete over the middle for tight end Kyle Pitts on fourth and 1.
When four plays netted just nine yards, the Bucs gave the ball right back.
But it only served to set the stage for Mike Edwards’ second pick-six in a matter of minutes. With Edwards and cornerback Carlton Davis blitzing from the edge, Davis tipped a Ryan pass into the air to Edwards, who took it 15 yards for a touchdown and a 48-25 Bucs lead.
Edwards, who backed the final few yards into the end zone, was penalized for taunting after the play.
Change in momentum
Just when the Falcons seemed to be seizing the momentum, they gave it right back.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches stopped Cordarrelle Patterson for a three-yard loss on third and 1 from the Atlanta 13, and then Cameron Nizialek punted just 33 yards, giving the Bucs the ball at the Falcons 43.
Tampa Bay didn’t need long to take advantage of the opportunity.
Tom Brady threw deep on the very next play, connecting with Mike Evans for a 26-yard gain to the 17. After a five-yard completion to running back Leonard Fournette, Brady found Chris Godwin in the right corner of the end zone to put Tampa Bay ahead 35-25 with just over nine minutes remaining.
The touchdown pass was Brady’s fifth of the game.
But the Bucs weren’t done.
With William Gholston pressuring Matt Ryan, safety Mike Edwards intercepted a pass for Russell Gage just minutes later and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 41-25 Tampa Bay lead.
Risk pays off, but only briefly
Up three late in the third quarter, the Bucs tried for a first down on fourth and 1 from their 41.
Unlike Atlanta earlier in the game, Tampa Bay converted, Ronald Jones gaining five yards up the middle to give the Bucs a first down at the 46.
The drive unraveled shortly afterward, however, as a holding penalty against Rob Gronkowski and sack of Tom Brady forced the Bucs to punt.
The good news? A 57-yard kick by Bradley Pinion pinned the Falcons at their 4, the ball downed by Andrew Adams.
Falcons pull to within three late in the third
Mike Davis and Calvin Ridley moved the Falcons down the field, but there was that guy again, Cordarrelle Patterson, with a one-handed catch on a jump pass from Matt Ryan to put Atlanta in the end zone.
The Falcons made good on the two-point conversion, as Ryan scored on a zone read to get Atlanta to within 28-25 late in the third quarter.
The Falcons were helped by the second big penalty on Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis, a facemask against Ridley that resulted in a 13-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 7. Earlier in the drive, Ridley picked up 22 yards on a third-and-7 reception to keep the drive alive.
There’s that guy again
Cordarrelle Patterson has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Falcons, seemingly accounting for nearly every big play by the Atlanta offense. (Ex-Gator Kyle Pitts had the others.)
Patterson was back at it in the third quarter, taking a short pass 23 yards down the left sideline to the Bucs 23.
He first appeared to have scored, but it was ruled he stepped out of bounds at the 23, something replays confirmed.
Patterson’s biggest play might have come later on the drive, however, as he pounced on his own fumble at the Tampa Bay 10 to maintain possession for Atlanta.
The Falcons didn’t squander the opportunity, as Matt Ryan hit Calvin Ridley with a three-yard scoring pass to cut Atlanta’s deficit to 28-17 with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
Patterson has three catches for 50 yards, as well as a 10-yard scoring run.
In rare company
Former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was inducted into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor at halftime.
If at first you don’t succeed ...
Robbed of a splash play late in the first half, the Bucs defense got one to start the second.
Defensive tackle Vita Vea tipped a Matt Ryan pass at the line of scrimmage, and it was intercepted by linebacker Shaquil Barrett at the Atlanta 18.
Three plays and a pass interference penalty later, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady found Mike Evans with a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone for his fourth touchdown pass of the game and second to Evans.
Ryan Succop’s extra point gave the Bus a 28-10 lead with 12:43 to play in the third quarter.
Turn of events
An apparent fumble return for a touchdown by Bucs inside linebacker Devin White was negated when outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was penalized for being offside. Replays seemed to suggest otherwise.
Tampa Bay compounded the mistake when Carlton Davis was flagged for unnecessary roughness after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Christian Blake and Jason Pierre-Paul was called offside, allowing Atlanta to drive down the field.
The Falcons took advantage of the opportunity to salvage a 36-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo as the first half came to a close.
Instead of going into the locker room leading by 21, the Bucs were up only by 11, a 10-point swing.
Sharing the wealth
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady went to Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski most often early in the game, but he got Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and O.J. Howard involved on a late first-half drive.
Brady hit Godwin deep over the middle for a 26-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 45, then hooked up with Brown for 17 yards down the left side to the 36. A 21-yard pass to Howard over the middle moved the ball to the 15.
After a couple of Leonard Fournette runs got them inside the 5, Brady went back to Evans for the Bucs’ third touchdown of the half and Evans’ first of the season, a 3-yarder to the left side.
The score extended the Bucs’ lead to 21-7 with 43 seconds remaining in the half.
With the Falcons down a touchdown and facing third and 7 from their 14 midway through the second quarter, former Florida Gator Kyle Pitts made maybe the biggest catch of his young NFL career.
Pitts reached back for a Matt Ryan throw over the middle that was behind him and took the ball 24 yards to the Atlanta 38.
It was the second 24-yard reception of the half for Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Alas, the drive came up empty as Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sacked Ryan for a seven-yard loss on third and 9 from the Bucs 48.
Falcons come to life
Cordarrelle Patterson almost single-handedly drove the Falcons down the field for their first touchdown early in the second quarter.
With Atlanta picking up its tempo, Patterson caught two Matt Ryan passes for 27 yards, including a 23-yarder to the Bucs 38, and ran for a 10-yard touchdown to pull Atlanta back to 14-7 with 11:48 to play in the quarter.
Tight end and former Florida Gator Kyle Pitts had the big play on the drive, a 24-yard reception to the Tampa Bay 14. He also sealed the edge on Patterson’s touchdown run around right end with a block on outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
Brady, Gronkowski give Bucs two-touchdown lead
Facing a short field after stopping the Falcons on downs, the Bucs needed just five plays to cover the 46 yards to the end zone.
After three Leonard Fournette runs for 21 yards and an eight-yard completion to Chris Godwin, the Bucs got the ball at the Atlanta 1 after A.J. Terrell was penalized for interfering with Godwin in the end zone.
Tom Brady’s second touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, a short throw to the right side, extended the Bucs’ lead to 14-0.
Trailing by a touchdown late in the first quarter, the Falcons went for it on fourth and 1 from their 45.
The gambit backfired, as quarterback Matt Ryan was stopped short of the first-down marker by Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea, giving Tampa Bay the ball at the Atlanta 46.
Bucs defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh tackled Ryan from behind on third down following a three-yard scramble to set up the fourth-down situation.
Oddly, the Falcons opted to punt when facing fourth and 1 from the Bucs 49 on their previous possession. When they were unable to draw Tampa Bay offside, they were flagged for delay of game, pushing the ball back to the Atlanta 46.
Change of fortune
Leading 7-0, the Bucs seemed on the verge of doubling their lead on their second possession before self-imploding.
Tom Brady continued to carve up the Falcons defense, completing passes of 16 yards to receiver Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette and nine yards to Rob Gronkowski to move Tampa Bay to the Atlanta 16.
The Bucs would have been inside the 10 after another completion to Fournette, but center Ryan Jensen was penalized for unnecessary roughness at the end of the play, moving the ball back to the 23.
On the very next play, Dante Fowler Jr. beat Bucs tackle Donovan Smith and hit Brady from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Atlanta linebacker Mykal Walker at the Atlanta 29.
The Falcons picked up one first down before the Bucs forced a punt.
More trouble for Bucs’ secondary?
The good news? The Bucs defense forced the Falcons to go three-and-out on Atlanta’s opening possession.
The bad news? Cornerback Carlton Davis was down on the field after a running play before leaving under his own power.
Davis, you might remember, was added to Friday’s injury report with a hamstring injury.
Fortunately, Davis was able to return for the next defensive series.
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is out for the foreseeable future with a dislocated elbow, though he won’t need surgery, according to coach Bruce Arians.
Bucs go to the air for early score
Wide receiver Mike Evans did most of the work, but tight end Rob Gronkowski ultimately got the Bucs into the end zone on their opening drive.
Starting at their 25-yard line following a touchback, quarterback Tom Brady immediately found Evans over the middle for a 20-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 45. After an 8-yard Ronald Jones run, Brady hit Evans again down the seam for 25 yards to the Falcons 22.
The Bucs were in the end zone three plays later, Brady connecting with Gronkowski on a corner route for a 20-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
Tampa Bay completed three pass plays of 20 or more yards on the six-play, 75-yard drive, needing just 2 minutes, 38 seconds.
He left it all on the field before Bucs, Falcons arrived
Tom Brady and Matt Ryan emerged from their respective tunnels Sunday with no hope of achieving the weekend’s top conversion rate at Raymond James Stadium.
That distinction belonged to Wayne Ward, the venue’s 52-year-old turf and grounds manager. Under severe meteorological duress, Ward and his staff still converted the field — replacing USF’s painted logos with Tampa Bay’s — with a few hours to spare.
Bucs calling on cornerback Richard Sherman
TAMPA ― Shortly after losing cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to a dislocated elbow in the season opener, the Bucs reached out to five-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.
The former Seahawk and 49er, 33, was arrested in July after he tried to force his way into a family member’s home after crashing his SUV in a construction zone.
He pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanor charges, including driving under the influence and second-degree criminal trespass, and has been speaking to a therapist since the arrest, NFL Network reported.
Better start than in Super Bowl-winning season
The Super Bowl champion Bucs already are better than they were a year ago.
In the win column, anyway.
Thanks to a 31-29 victory over Dallas in the NFL season opener on Sept. 9, Tampa Bay enters this afternoon’s NFC South opener against Atlanta (4:05 p.m., Fox) at Raymond James Stadium with a 1-0 record. The Bucs started last season with a 34-23 loss to the Saints in Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay debut.
As it happens, the Falcons were the team that helped put the Bucs on the path to Super Bowl 55.
Down 17 points and in danger of falling to 8-6 after the first half of the Dec. 20 game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Tampa Bay rallied for a 31-27 victory. The Bucs haven’t lost since, part of a nine-game win streak stretching over two seasons.
Brady is healthier and happier than he was a year ago, thanks to a contract extension that keeps him in Tampa Bay through the end of the 2022 season and offseason surgery to repair a torn MCL in his left knee. He looked the part against the Cowboys, throwing four touchdown passes and leading a 57-yard scoring drive in the final minutes to set up Ryan Succop’s winning field goal.
Incredibly, Brady was not sacked in 50 pass attempts, which was why Pro Football Focus graded the Bucs’ pass blocking the best in the NFL in Week 1. No other team even came close.
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting was lost for the foreseeable future with a dislocated elbow, though he won’t need surgery, according to coach Bruce Arians. The Bucs reportedly have reached out to five-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman in an attempt to help shore up a secondary that Dallas’ Dak Prescott exposed in the opener, completing 72.4 percent of his passes for 403 yards and three TDs in his first live game in 333 days.
Though Atlanta was the only NFC South team to lose its opener (badly, to Philadelphia) and Tampa Bay will enter the game as the prohibitive favorite, there is a danger to overlooking the Falcons that goes beyond the “any given Sunday” mantra of the NFL, Joey Knight writes.
No matter the outcome, Bucs fans will have something to celebrate, as former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime. Kiffin, who led Tampa Bay’s defense for 13 seasons and was part of its first Super Bowl championship team, will be the first assistant coach so honored.
Falcons fire the first salvo. Note the avocado and bottle of tequila in the water:
Of course, as former Times Bucs reporter Stephen Holder points out, Bucs have homefield advantage:
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A little light reading
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