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Week 15 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
What you need to know
Atlanta entered this game without guard Andy Levitre and running back Tevin Coleman
, but it didn’t hurt their ground game a bit. Devonta Freeman
and Terron Ward
routinely got into the Buccaneers secondary on toss plays to either side of the field. These gains forced Tampa to align its linebackers tight to the line of scrimmage, which opened the middle of the field for the passing game. Freeman earned 68 yards as a receiver and had a few big plays on angle routes breaking across this shallow zone with no one round. Matt Ryan
exploited Tampa’s loss of a starting quarterback with a stop-fade to Justin Hardy
to cap its second drive of the game and they built a 10-point lead in the second quarter. However, Ryan and Julio Jones
had difficulty hooking up on open deep passes and it led to stalled drives that helped Tampa cut the lead to four points. When Atlanta got too predictable late in the game, Tampa was able to force a third and long, sack Ryan, and earn a final drive that put them in field goal range with five seconds left. However, the Buccaneers missed the attempt, preserving an Atlanta win and knocking Green Bay from playoff contention.
Tampa Bay's defense took the field without Gerald McCoy or Lavonte David, while Doug Martin
(rules violation) was the only offensive starter unavailable. The Bucs receiving core was decimated by injury as the game went on. Tight end OJ Howard left the game with a foot injury after scoring in the 1st quarter, Desean Jackson exited the game in the 2nd quarter with a knee injury, and Cameron Brate
missed the 2nd quarter with a knee injury before returning after halftime. Tampa Bay got the ball back with a minute left to play down 24-21, and Winston led a drive into Atlanta territory that ended with Patrick Murray
missing a 54 yard attempt as time expired. Tampa Bay blocked a Matt Bryant
field goal attempt in the 3rd quarter.
|QB Matt Ryan, Pass: 17 - 31 - 212 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - 29 - 0|
While on-target in the short passing game, Ryan was once again inconsistent on vertical targets greater than 25 yards. He found Justin Hardy
for 20 yards on a curl route while taking a hit to his chest during the release, giving Hardy room to gain another 7 on the play. He later found Hardy to cap the drive with a seven-yard stop fade for the score against a Buccaneers defense that had only 10 defenders on the field. He also found Jones on a deep curl in an empty middle against a deep safety on a play-action pass from inside its own five. This was the outer limits of his accuracy. He hesitated to target Jones on deep seam route in the second quarter when the receiver had position on the safety, but Ryan wanted an extra second of confirmation. By the team he released the ball, the throw was late and behind Jones, which allowed both the trailing linebacker and safety to close on Jones and break up the play. Ryan later drove Atlanta from inside its own 20 with less than 2 minutes left with several short passes. However, his placement was too high on consecutive passes after getting past midfield, and it led to a punt with 30 seconds left. In the third quarter, Ryan found Jones on a deep crossing route with a perfect throw of at least 45 yards but the ball went through Jones’ hands. While Ryan repeatedly avoided pressure and broke the pocket for gains up the left flat, the consistent second-half pressure impacted Ryan as the half progressed. He misfired to an open Hardy near the Tampa three late in the third and it led a 33-yard field goal attempt that the Buccaneers blocked. After Tampa closed the lead to three, Ryan got sacked trying to climb the pocket on 3rd and 9 with 1:24 left, which gave the Buccaneers a final chance to tie the game.
Tampa run blitzed the correct gap to stop Freeman at the line of scrimmage for a gain of a yard on the opening play from an I formation set. That was the best defense of a run play the Buccaneers had for most of the night. Freeman and the Falcons routinely gashed Tampa with toss plays to either side of the field. Freeman found huge gaps at the line of scrimmage and no linebackers to tackle him until he was trucking safeties 9-12 yards downfield. He ran over T.J. Ward on a 22-yard gain and later did the same Chris Conte. Freeman scored on a one-yard plunge in the first quarter and a 32-yard toss play up the right flat in the fourth quarter. He had two fumbles in this game. The first was on the one-yard plunge but it was ruled that he crossed the plane. The second happened on a run up the right flat into the secondary where he tried to run over Conte a second time and lost the ball. Atlanta recovered each fumbled, even if only one was officially scored as such. His best play of the night was a critical third-down catch over the middle on a pivot route against hard contact with a little more than two minutes left after Tampa closed the lead to four points.
|RB Terron Ward, Rush: 8 - 40 - 0, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (1 targets)|
The third-string back earned significant playing time due to Tevin Coleman
’s injury, and he played well. Ward caught an angle route to reach the 20 of Tampa for a 6-yard gain on 2nd and 12 in the middle of the first quarter. He then earned a nine yards with a hard cut downhill of right tackle to begin the third drive. He followed up with a run around right end with a cut inside Justin Hardy
for the first down. Later, Ward took a toss play up the right sideline for nine yards. He also made a strong cutback to the left flat for a first down across midfield in the middle of the fourth quarter to extend a drive. Ward runs a lot more like Freeman and he’s a good fit for a zone game. He lacks top speed, but his quickness, balance, and patience are all strong traits.
He earned three yards on an end around early in the second quarter. He had to outrun good pursuit and edge containment to reach the sideline. He earned a first down on a 9-yard catch in the left flat on a crossing route with about a minute left. Gabriel caught a 3rd and 22 pass for a 6-yard gain as a check-down that forced a punt on Atlanta’s first drive of the third quarter.
|WR Mohamed Sanu, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (5 targets)|
Ryan overshot Sanu on a corner route to the end zone but even if he pass was on-target, Robert McClain had Sanu covered step-for-step. Sanu earned a few yards up the right flat on a wide receiver screen with less than 90 seconds left in the half and later caught a scramble drill with Ryan flushing right. Sanu uncovered against the linebacker for 21 yards to the right sideline during the same drive with 49 seconds left. He then dropped a high throw to the left sideline with 39 seconds left on 2nd and 2. He was not highly involved in the second half.
It was an up-and-down game for Jones. He dropped a 3rd and 5 pass on a pivot route on the opening drive after Brent Grimes wrapped Jones’ waist on the break. He then a diving catch near the left boundary, earning eight yards and getting inside the Buccaneers’ 30 during the second drive. Jones closest shot at the end zone came on a third-down crossing route for 17 yards through a wide-open middle of the Tampa zone, reaching the Buccaneers’ 3. In the second quarter, Jones got open on an option route against a free safety in the middle of the second quarter, breaking the route to a curl and gaining 29 on the play. Matt Ryan
underthrew a wide-open Jones up the right seam later in the half because the quarterback didn’t trust what was a clear open opportunity and hesitated. Jones returned the bad favor by allowing a perfectly thrown deep crossing route through his hands that could have resulted in a long touchdown in the third quarter.
: He earned 27 yards on a deep curl where the coverage fell to the ground while adjusting to Hardy’s break. The receiver continued up the seam for about seven of those yards after the catch. Hardy got open as the single left receiver from the Tampa seven on a stop fade against the blitz with only 10 defenders on the field for the first Atlanta touchdown. Hardy later dropped a high-point target across the middle in the end zone with Chris Conte wrapped around him late in the third quarter.
He continued his strong season as a kick returner, taking the opening kickoff up the right hash to the Atlanta 36. He ran through the reach of the first defender on a 58-yard punt for a 13-yard return. He reached the 25 on his second kick return.
He earned five yards on a short out to begin the Falcons’ second drive. It was his only target of the game.
He recovered a Devonta Freeman
fumble on a one-yard plunge, but it appears the officials rewarded the score to freeman. It was the extent of his fantasy-relevant action.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|QB Jameis Winston, Pass: 27 - 35 - 299 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - 18 - 0|
Winston played one of his better games of the season, throwing three touchdowns with no turnovers. Winston hooked up with OJ Howard for an early touchdown, capitalizing when a defender fell down while covering Howard on a shallow cross. No one else was close enough to catch Howard once he took off up the left sideline, picking up most of the yards after the catch. Winston lost the ball while taking a sack in the 2nd quarter, but the fumble was recovered by an offensive lineman. Winston hit Evans down the right sideline for a beautiful 55 yard touchdown early in the 3rd quarter, but the receiver was flagged for pushing off on his defender before the catch. The two redeemed themselves shortly after with a 42 yard touchdown connection. Winston lined up under center in a run formation with two fullbacks and a tailback. Evans lined up tight to the formation and took off on a deep post as Winston faked the handoff and launched the ball deep. Evans soared over two defenders, pulling in the touchdown pass as he fell to the earth between them. Winston found Adam Humphries
for his third touchdown, capping a long drive that saw multiple completions to Humphries and Evans. On the scoring play, Winston took the snap and rolled out right to avoid pressure. Humphries took off upfield from the right slot, then made a nice adjustment to work himself open in the back of the endzone, where Winston hit him for his first touchdown of the year.
Winston and the offense got the ball back down 24-21 with less than a minute in the 4th quarter. Winston drove them down the field with multiple completions to Brate and Humphries, with backup receivers Godwin and Martino chipping in receptions as well. Patrick Murray
unfortunately missed his 54 yard field goal attempt to tie the game as the clock expired. Winston had Tampa's longest run of the day, a nifty 13 yard scramble in the 3rd quarter.
In Doug Martin
's absence(concussion) Barber was the only Tampa Bay back to receive carries. Jacquizz Rodgers
was active, but only returned kicks, seeing no time on offense. Charles Sims
was targeted a few times out of the backfield, but did not carry the ball. Barber averaged a solid 4.1 yards against a tough Atlanta run D, but the volume wasn't there as the Bucs played from behind most of the day. Barber lost a fumble inside Atlanta's five yard line near the end of the 2nd quarter, a costly mistake for the Bucs.
Barber caught a halfback screen for a short gain at the end of the 2nd quarter. He was targeted again on a shallow out early in the 3rd quarter, breaking a couple of tackles after the catch.
Sims mixed in on passing downs as the only back besides Barber to receive snaps on offense. He did not log any carries, and couldn't get anything going with his pass targets. Sims flexed out to right receiver position and caught a slant early in the 1st quarter for a minimal gain. He split out wide again and caught a curl route for a short gain on the next drive. Sims caught a screen pass early in the 2nd quarter and miraculously broke three tackles before tearing up the left sideline. Atlanta challenged the play and it was determined that Sims' knee had touched down while breaking one of the tackles, negating the big gain. Sims lined up in the slot and caught a bubble screen that was blown up behind the line of scrimmage during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
Rodgers did not see any snaps on offense, even after Peyton Barber
lost a costly fumble inside the Atlanta 5 yard line. Rodgers returned kicks, with a long return of 45 yards in the 3rd quarter.
Humphries did not record a target or catch until the 3rd quarter when he pulled in a quick curl route from the left slot. He caught a short out route early in the 4th for no gain. Humphries heated up late, lining up in the left slot and hauling in a comeback route for a first down later in the 4th, followed by a WR screen a few plays later. Humphries capped the drive off with a 16 yard touchdown catch, his first of the season. Winston took the snap and rolled out right, extending the play while Humphries ran a deep route from the left slot, then worked his way open in back of the end zone with a nice adjustment as Winston bought time. Humphries also carried the ball once for a short gain on an end-around, and held down his usual punt return duties.
Winston narrowly missed Evans for a big gain on the left sideline with his first pass attempt. Evans hauled in a skinny post in the 2nd quarter for his first reception. Two plays later, Evans and Winston connected for a huge gain down the right sideline, but Evans drew an offensive pass interference penalty on the catch. Winston hit Evans for a couple more short gains before the end of the first half. Evans caught a beautiful 55 yard touchdown pass from Winston early in the third, but he was flagged for pushing off on his defender. Evans redeemed himself on the next drive with one of his most impressive catches of the season. Winston lined up in a run formation with two fullbacks and a halfback, then faked play action before launching the ball downfield to Evans. Evans had lined up tight to the formation and took off on a deep post at the snap, soaring over two defenders to pull down the touchdown pass. Winston found Evans once more on a slant route late in the 4th quarter that picked up 9 yards. Evans was targeted in the end zone at the end of the drive, but was badly overthrown. He finished the day with a team-high 8 targets and 79 yards, tied with Humphries for most receptions(5).
Jackson hauled in a crossing pattern and turned it up the left sideline for a gain of 11 yards on his first target of the day. He carried the ball on an end around later in the 2nd quarter for a short gain. Shortly after, Jackson headed to the locker room with an ankle injury and did not return to the game.
Despite a rash of injuries in the receiving core, Godwin wasn't targeted until the 4th quarter when he made an amazing catch in traffic on a seam route from the left wide receiver position.
Martino didn't see the field on offense until the waning minutes of the 4th quarter. He lined up wide left in a 5WR set and caught a deep comeback for a gain of 11 on his only target of the day.
Brate took a big hit in the first quarter while hauling in a deep pass up the seam. The blow knocked the pass loose for an incompletion and sent Brate to the locker room with a knee injury. He returned after halftime, securing his first reception late in the 3rd quarter on a deep comeback route. Winston targeted him on the same route a few plays later, but a defender knocked the ball loose as Brate attempted to secure it. Brate flexed out to the slot and caught another deep comeback up the left seam late in the 4th quarter, setting up Adam Humphries
' touchdown reception two plays later. Brate picked up another 13 yard gain with less than a minute left in the game, hauling in an out route while the Bucs attempted to drive down and tie the game. Winston went right back to him two plays later for another completion up the seam with less than 20 seconds left in the game. The completions drove the Bucs into Atlanta territory, but kicker Murray missed the game-tying 54 yard attempt as time expired.
Rookie Auclair saw his first offensive snaps of the season after Howard and Brate went down with injuries. He caught a short checkdown pass on play action in the 2nd quarter, picking up 11 yards after the catch.
Howard caught a shallow crossing route in the 1st quarter after his defender stumbled and fell, then outran everyone else up the left sideline for a 30 yard score. Unfortunately, Howard sustained a foot injury while being tackled in the end zone on the play and did not return to the game afterward. Rookie TE Auclair and fullback/TE Cross were pressed into more active receiving roles with Howard and Brate banged up.
Cross, a fullback/tight end hybrid who is typically employed as a lead blocker, was forced into a bigger receiving role with Brate and Howard both out of the game. Cross made the highlight catch of his career in the second quarter, shaking his linebacker with a double move at the line of scrimmage before hauling in a leaping back-shoulder catch down the left sideline. Cross missed his second target of the day, an easy out route that killed the Bucs' two minute drill at the end of the 1st half.