In a game that featured two of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons were able to make one more play than Tampa Bay and held on for a 34-29 win on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Falcons defense stopped the Bucs on the final play of the game, a third-and-10 from the Atlanta 21 with only seven seconds left. Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston burst up the middle to the 8 and set off a school-yard sequence of fumbles and laterals that ended with the ball going out of bounds as time expired.
The victory ended a three-game losing streak for Atlanta (2-4), which yielded 512 total yards and allowed two touchdowns and a field goal in the final 20 minutes of the game, nearly blowing a 24-16 lead. Tampa Bay (2-3) saw its defense allow 416 total yards and deny Atlanta points on its first three possessions of the second half.
“Heading in, we knew for this week what it was going to take,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “We knew all our chips were going to be in, the preparation and the mindset. We said it’s pretty cool when everybody is involved in the win when you keep fighting and keep battling for it. I thought guys had to battle and go through. Excellent team win.”
Atlanta’s Matt Bryant kicked a 57-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining, an effort that resulted in the veteran injuring his right hamstring and being taken to the locker room. The kick — the third-longest of Bryant’s career — gave the Falcons a 34-29 lead and forced Tampa to go for a touchdown.
“We count on Matt (Bryant) in those moments, and we knew the kick would put us up by a score,” Quinn said. “It was just a difference of going for it, to win it right there or to get the kick and be ahead. We didn’t want to leave ourselves only 20-some yards short just up to with the way their offense was able to throw it and the playmakers they had. That was the rationale behind it and Matt hit it beautifully.”
The Bucs gave it their best shot, moving to the Atlanta 21 through a series of quick passes in their no-huddle attack. After a spiked pass and an incompletion, the Bucs had one last shot. Winston ran up the middle and was stopped at the 13, but flipped the ball back to Mike Evans, who tried to toss the ball to DeSean Jackson. But the rolled helplessly out of bounds and the game ended.
“My main goal was to get as far as I can and not get tackled with the ball in my hand and that’s how I saw it,” Winston said. “I believe we had a chance. If the ball bounced our way and went into the end zone, we’re not questioning that play call, but it was a great play. We’ve been working on it. If we’re in that situation again, you most likely will see it again.”
Winston and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan both played well.
Winston, who was making his first start, completed 30 of 41 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns. He was sacked twice and threw two interceptions. Winston rushed for 31 yards.
Ryan competed his first 12 passes and finished 31-for-41 for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan now has 274 career touchdown passes and passed Joe Montana for 16th place on the all-time list. He also had a 13-yard run.
Atlanta receiver Julio Jones caught 10 passes for 143 yards and tight end Austin Hooper had nine catches for 71 yards and one touchdown. It was Hooper’s second straight nine-catch game. Eight different players were targeted by Ryan.
The Bucs rushed for 123 yards, with Peyton Barber carrying 13 times for 82 yards.
The Bucs scored first on a 15-yard pass from Winston to Cameron Brate, but missed the extra point.
Atlanta took the lead 7-6 when Ryan drove the team 75 yards, the final 35 covered on a pass to Mohamed Sanu.
The Falcons scored touchdowns on their next two drives, getting a 14-yard run from Ito Smith and a 9-yard pass to Hooper. It was the third straight game with a rushing touchdown for Smith.
Tampa Bay made it 21-13 on a 10-yard pass from Winston to O.J. Howard with 26 seconds left, but Atlanta rushed downfield to get a 45-yard field goal from Bryant with one second left for a 24-13 halftime lead.
The Bucs scored the next 10 points on a 35-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro and a 9-yard pass from Winston to Chris Godwin. The two-point conversion pass failed, but Tampa Bay had cut the lead to 24-22 with 11:34 remaining.
Atlanta countered with a 10-play drive capped by a 6-yard pass from Ryan to Tevin Coleman, but the Bucs responded by driving 75 yards in nine plays and finishing with a 5-yard pass from Winston to Peyton Barber.
“It was good,” Jones said. “We know we are going to come out and play for each other. It starts with the preparation. We just have to figure out the way at practice and that carried over and helped us today in the game. The way we competed against one another at practice, we got into it a little bit. It got chippy. But I’m trying to make everyone better all across the board.”