The Atlanta Falcons faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 9 looking to improve their record to 3-2 and take possession of first place in the National Football Conference (NFC) South division. The Falcons faced quarterback (QB) Tom Brady, whose all-time record against Atlanta is 10-0, including a comeback in Super Bowl LI, down 28-3 late in the third quarter. 

The Buccaneers looked to bounce back from back-to-back home losses against the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs and would have All-Pro wide receivers (WR) Mike Evans and Chris Godwin back for the second consecutive week.  With second-year Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts missing with a hamstring injury, the Falcons needed to rely on rookie running backs Caleb Huntley and Tyler Allgeier, along with WR Drake London and WR Olamidae Zacchaeus. 

After forcing the Falcons to punt on their opening drive, the Bucs responded with a balanced offensive attack in the air and on the ground, converting several key third downs. However, they were stuffed in a fourth down and one attempt in the red zone, led by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and outside linebacker Ade Ogundeji. On their second possession of the game, the Falcons had a third down conversion from QB Marcus Mariota to London negated due to a holding penalty by center Drew Dalman. They were stopped on the next play and forced to punt.  

After the first quarter ended scoreless, the Bucs ended the drought in the second quarter with an 88-yard drive capped off by running back Leonard Fournette’s one-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 7-0. Another Falcons drive stalled at midfield, and the Bucs drove down the field to the Falcons’ five-yard line.  The Falcons’ defense was able to force a field goal, making the score 10-0 late in the first half. After a missed field goal by kicker Younghoe Koo, the Bucs took advantage of excellent field position, leading to another field goal by kicker Ryan Succop, making it a 13-0 game at halftime.  

The Bucs outgained the Falcons 297-89 in total yards in the first half, with 256 of those yards coming through the air. Mariota finished the first half 5-14 with only 52 passing yards and a 47.3 passer rating. Tampa Bay’s defensive line got the best of Atlanta’s offensive line, accounting for 2 sacks and applying pressure at crucial points in the half.  

After the first Falcons drive of the second-half stalled at midfield, a 40-yard pass from Brady to Evans led to a one-yard touchdown pass to Fournette and a two-point conversion to former Falcons WR Russell Gage, extending the Bucs lead to 21-0. Entering the final quarter of play, the Falcons found themselves down 21-0 and were looking to stage a fourth quarter comeback and steal a game from their rival on the road. 

After being forced to punt again on the ensuing drive, Atlanta responded with a three-and-out on defense, and then a 43 yard drive, capped off with running back Avery Williams’ eight-yard touchdown rush, his first of the year, to cut the deficit to 21-7. After forcing another three-and-out, the Falcons conducted a 70 yard drive, ending with a touchdown pass from Mariota to Zaccheus. The drive was then followed up with a two-point conversion to Hodge, cutting the deficit to 21-15 with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter. With the Bucs getting the ball back late in the game, all they needed was a few first downs to run the Falcons out of timeouts and ice the game. But, this drive ended up leading to controversy.

On third down-and four-at the Buccaneer 43 yard-line, Brady’s pass intended for Evans was incomplete, but a defensive holding call on defensive back AJ Terrell extended the drive. Then, on third-and-five, Brady was sacked by Jarrett, giving Mariota and the Falcons offense an opportunity to complete their comeback. However, a roughing the passer penalty was called on Jarrett, resulting in a Buccaneer 21-15 win and extending Tampa Bay’s win streak against the Falcons. 

The loss dropped the Falcons record to 2-3 and 0-2 in divisional play, while the Bucs will take sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Brady also advanced his record to 11-0 all-time against Atlanta.  

Due to the controversial calls against the Falcons late in the game, the loss adds more fuel to the ongoing debate between NFL fans and analysts on how roughing the passer penalties are enforced. Similarly to the win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, the Falcons relied heavily on the running game with Mariota, Huntley and Allgeier, who provided a much needed boost to the offense in the second half.  Mariota led the team in rushing yards with 61, while Allgeier and Huntley had 45 and 34 rushing yards, respectively. London was held to just four receptions and 35 yards. Defensively, safety Jaylinn Hawkins and inside linebacker Mykal Walker each totaled 11 tackles to lead the team.  


Despite the loss, the Falcons’ valiant effort in the second half indicates  that narratives about the team are changing under second year head coach Arthur Smith. Through this tough test against the Bucs, the Falcons have shown that they will play hard in every game. Since blowing a 26-10 fourth quarter lead against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, the Falcons have since outscored their opponents 62-31 in the second half. They had two close wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns, which indicate that Smith and the rest of the coaching staff are slowly dismantling the team’s reputation of blowing leads in the second half.

When asked of his team’s effort during the postgame press conference, Smith replied, “I’m proud of our guys. They fought back. They always do.” Smith also added, “We’re never out of the fight. We’re going to keep swinging.”  

When asked about the two controversial calls at the end of the game, Smith stopped short of blaming the officials, stating that “there’s a lot of things we could have done better.”   

When Mariota was questioned about the team’s fourth quarter performance, he credited the coaching staff, highlighting that they do “a great job of making adjustments” and that the team kept “throwing punches and found some ways to score points at the end.” Mariota finished the day completing 14 out of his 25 passes, for one touchdown pass and a 86.6 percent passer rating.

Hoping to have Pitts back next week, the Falcons will face another tough match against the San Francisco 49ers at Mercedes Benz Stadium on Oct. 16, looking to boost their record to 3-3 and get back to a .500 record.

Former quarterback Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons (#2) leads his teammates onto the field during a game against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland in November 2018. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Keith Allison)

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Samir Ajy (he/him) (24C) is from Atlanta, Georgia and is majoring in political science on a pre-law track. In his free time, Samir enjoys watching sports, playing ultimate frisbee and watching comedy-based movies.