While the football game got away from them in the fourth quarter Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons and first-year head coach Arthur Smith weren’t overly discouraged by their showing against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Tom Brady tossed five touchdown passes and Mike Edwards returned two, fourth-quarter interceptions for scores to finalize the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-25 win over the Falcons in Tampa, Fla. After going down by double figures, Atlanta clawed back in the third quarter and was within a field goal in the fourth quarter before things unraveled.
“I’m proud to coach this group. We are building something in there. These guys fight,” Smith said. “So, you go on the road like this against a really good, veteran team, our guys kept swinging. It’s unfortunate what happened at the end. We’ll go in there and watch the tape and keep moving forward and correct things. You have a ball game 28-25, we are backed up and get to third-and-inches and we don’t convert. Obviously, they get the short field, they go up and couple tipped balls later and that’s what the score was. We have a group of fighters in there and I’m proud to coach them.”
Leading 28-25 as the fourth period started, the Buccaneers (2-0) pulled away as Brady hit Chris Godwin for a 12-yard touchdown with 9:18 left. Edwards picked off Matt Ryan less than 90 seconds later and lugged it 31 yards to make it 41-25. Edwards sealed the outcome with 4:01 remaining with a 15-yard interception return.
The defensive scores by the Buccaneers made the final score more lopsided than how the game played out.
“They got two pick-sixes off tipped balls, that’s 14 points right there,” Smith said. “It looks ugly in the box score, on the surface looking at it. Understanding the context of the game, we had a chance in the fourth quarter, we have to convert. To go win it or at worst flip it. We had all three timeouts maybe you pin them back and you have a chance. We didn’t convert and they did. That was the difference.”
Brady completed 24 of 36 passes for 276 yards and has thrown for nine scores in the first two games. Ten different receivers caught at least one pass, with Mike Evans grabbing five for 75 yards after being limited to three by Dallas on Sept. 9.
Ryan had a good game going for Atlanta (0-2) until the late interceptions. He finished 35 of 46 for 300 yards and two scores, but also tossed three picks. Calvin Ridley caught seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort.
The Brady-Gronkowski pairing got Tampa Bay off to a 14-0 lead before the second quarter was a minute old. They capped the Buccaneers’ first possession with a 20-yard touchdown strike less than three minutes into the game, then finished their second scoring drive with a 1-yard pass 53 seconds into the second quarter.
Atlanta got on the board on its ensuing possession when Cordarrelle Patterson ripped off a 10-yard touchdown run with 11:48 left, but Brady made it 21-7 on a 3-yard scoring strike to Evans with 43 seconds left. Younghoe Koo made a 36-yard field goal as time expired to pull the Falcons within 21-10.
After Brady and Evans hooked up on a 1-yard touchdown just over two minutes into the third quarter, Atlanta made its move. Ryan found Ridley for a 3-yard scoring connection with 6:35 remaining, then hit Patterson on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 1:45 showing to make it a three-point game.
“I think there’s fight, I think there’s guys that compete and give you everything they’ve got,” Ryan said of Sunday’s performance. “When you have guys like that, you have a chance. I think we all, collectively, have to be more detailed, tighten things up, be more on the same page in all three phases and continue to get better. But, I’m optimistic. Disappointed, but optimistic with the type of effort we are getting from the guys and the way they’re focused and working during the week. With that said, we have to make the corrections. We have to get tighter as a group, get more detailed as a group.”