ATLANTA — A duo that started taking the NFL by storm in the 2010s went retro in a sense Sunday, hitting the 90s.
Tom Brady’s 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski on a fade route late in the third quarter was the duo’s second scoring connection of the day and 90th of their career, making them the second-most prolific pass-catch tandem in NFL regular season history.
They entered the day third behind Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (89), and Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (112). Their first TD hookup Sunday came on a 27-yard pass over the middle, giving the Bucs a 20-10 lead late in the first half.
“He gave me an audible (on the second TD); we weren’t supposed to have a fade, but he saw it and it just reminds me of the heydays with us,” Gronkowski said.
“We keep each other going. When I’m not feeling it, sometimes he’ll boost me up. The one time he’s not really feeling it, I can boost him up. But it’s a connection (that goes) way back. We’re just glad we’ve still got it and can help out the team.”
Gronkowski now has 92 career TD catches, passing Isaac Bruce for 12th-most in NFL history. His 20 multi-TD performances are one shy of the NFL record for tight ends held by Gates.
Pitts’ pedestrian day
The process of cutting one’s teeth in the NFL can periodically cause fans to gnash theirs. Twelve games into his Falcons career, former Gators All-American Kyle Pitts’ boundless potential has been brandished in spurts, not stretches.
The rookie tight end had four catches (on seven targets) for 48 yards Sunday, all in the first half. In his last six outings, Pitts has totaled 18 catches on 38 targets for 238 yards and no touchdowns. In the two games prior to that swoon (both wins), he totaled 16 catches on 18 targets for 282 yards and a TD.
“We just played our game,” Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis said. “He’s a good player, a good young player, but at the end of the day we’ve got to get the job done and we needed this division win. So regardless of how talented he is, we had a job to carry out and we did our best to do it.”
The Bucs’ most hard-luck position group took another snake bite Sunday when cornerback Jamel Dean exited early in the second half with a concussion. Additionally, fellow corner Sean Murphy-Bunting went down in the game’s waning moments.
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Coach Bruce Arians had no update on Murphy-Bunting or defensive lineman William Gholston, who also got hurt in the final seconds and was seen limping toward the visitors’ locker room.
Sunday’s contest was the Bucs’ first with their three primary cornerbacks — Dean, Murphy-Bunting and Davis — all available since opening night. Veteran Pierre Desir replaced Dean, forcing a Russell Gage fumble that Davis recovered on his second play.
“We’ve got some veterans (as backups),” Arians said.
“Pierre came in and did a hell of a job (five tackles, forced fumble), Dee (Delaney) was ready if he had to go, (Ross) Cockrell did a good job of moving to safety. (Safety) Andrew Adams is a vet; he played for us in the (NFC) championship game last year. So it’s great having veterans instead of having to throw rookies out there, that’s for sure.”
By the numbers
31 Touchdown catches in tight end Cameron Brate’s career, tying Kevin House for third-most in franchise history. Brate had a 3-yard scoring catch from Brady in the first quarter.
70.5 Career sacks for Ndamukong Suh, who had two (both on third down) Sunday
74 Touchdown passes by Brady in a Bucs uniform, fourth-most in franchise history. Vinny Testaverde (77) is third.
326 Career catches for Chris Godwin, third-most in franchise history. Godwin had a Bucs single-game-record 15 on Sunday, leapfrogging Mark Carrier (321) for the No. 3 spot
3,771 Passing yards this season for Brady, most through 12 games in franchise history
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