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10 things we learned from Falcons' win against Buccaneers in 2018 season finale

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Atlanta Falcons (7-9) came alive in the second half to earn a season sweep of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) on a Matt Bryant 37-yard game-winning field goal.

The win is the third straight for the Falcons, who end a disappointing season with a bit of momentum. Atlanta deserves credit for fighting back on the road after falling down 17-0 in the first half.

Here are 10 things we learned from the Falcons' season-ending victory:

10. Falcons' pass defense adjusts in second half

Atlanta's defense had a tough time getting Tampa Bay's offense off the field at times in the first half, giving up scoring drives of 12 and six plays early in the game. Hoping to avoid a big play over the top, the Falcons gave up underneath passes that Jameis Winston gladly accepted en route to helping the Buccaneers build a 17-0 lead.

Whatever adjustments were made at halftime, give the Falcons' coaching staff credit. After allowing Winston easy throwing lanes in the first half, Atlanta tightened up coverage and made it tougher for the Buccaneers to move the ball through the air after halftime.

The Buccaneers, who possess one of the league's top offenses, still managed to gain 433 yards against the Falcons, but they were held to just 40 percent on third down and were denied twice on two-point attempts.

9. Penalties and miscues plague offense

The Falcons' ability to seemingly move the ball effortlessly at time on offense makes the self-inflicted wound all the more maddening. Penalties stalled many drives for the Falcons' throughout the game, negating big plays and putting Atlanta behind the chains. The Falcons finished with nine penalties for 85 yards.

Those miscues made it tough for Atlanta to sustain drives, especially in the first half. The Falcons were 0 for 5 on third down in the first half and did not convert their first third down of the game until late during their first drive of the second half. Atlanta turned things around quickly, however, converting six of its seven third-down attempts in the second half to finish at 50 percent on the afternoon.

8. Austin Hooper finishes on high note

For the second consecutive offseason, Austin Hooper sought out Matt Ryan for some private workouts. It appears that extra work paid dividends in 2018 as Hooper turned in the best season of his three-year career.

Hooper ended the year on a high note, providing a steady presence as an outlet for Ryan and finishing the game with five catches for 67 yards. The lone blemish on Hooper's afternoon was a dropped touchdown pass on a deep shot in the third quarter. It was a tough catch, to be sure, but one that would have taken his afternoon from good to great.

7. Falcons wake up after late first-half touchdown

Nothing seemed to be going the Falcons' way for much of a lifeless first half, but a late touchdown pass to Julio Jones seemed to jolt Atlanta awake. The 19-yard strike cut the Bucs' lead to 17-7, and the Falcons picked up right where they left off with a 5-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the second half to make it 17-14.

Atlanta never tapped the brakes in the final two quarters of the game, rattling off 27 points and showcasing just how dangerous the Falcons can be on offense. The Falcons finished with a season-high 489 yards on offense, throwing for 380 yards and running for 109 yards. It was the fourth-straight game in which the Falcons gained at least 100 yards on the ground.

6. Mohamed Sanu continues to come through

Even without throwing the fourth touchdown pass of his career, Mohamed Sanu had a very good day for the Falcons. One of the most versatile and reliable players the Falcons' offense has, Sanu showed why he is so valuable against the Buccaneers.

Making both the easy and tough catches look routine, Sanu was all over the field on Sunday. He finished the game with 7 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown pass.

5. Damontae Kazee caps great second season with another pick

In his second season for the Falcons, Damontae Kazee has been a true breakout star. Forced into a starting role early in the year, Kazee has become a ballhawk center fielder and a sure tackler as the last man to beat.

In the third quarter of Sunday's season finale, Kazee recorded his seventh interception of the year, tying the NFL-high heading into Week 17. It's unclear where Kazee will play once Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal return to full strength, but the Falcons will need to find some role for the playmaker.

4. Sanu shows off arm, Ryan shows off hands

The peak highlight of the game for the Falcons came on their first drive of the second half. Facing a third down from the Bucs' 5-yard line, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dialed up a reverse pass that ended with Matt Ryan walking into the end zone for a touchdown.

It was the first career catch for Ryan and the first touchdown catch by any quarterback in franchise history.

3. Record-setting days for Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley

Julio Jones has left no question as to his place among the NFL's all-time greats in his eighth season in the league, while Calvin Ridley has emerged as a potential star in his rookie year. Both players capped off a memorable 2018 by breaking a pair of franchise records.

Jones surpassed 100 receiving yards for the 10th time this season, breaking his previous record of nine 100-yard games set in 2015. In the fourth quarter, Ridley caught his 10th touchdown pass of the year, setting the Falcons' franchise rookie record for touchdown catches in a single season. Jones finished the game with nine catches for 138 yards and a touchdown; Ridley finished with five catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.

2. Matt Ryan ends 2018 with another strong outing

Although largely unnoticed by the national media, Matt Ryan put together a 2018 season nearly as exceptional as his 2016 MVP campaign. He ended the year with another praiseworthy performance, completing 31 of his 44 passes for 378 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

The year certainly didn't go the way he or the Falcons would have liked, but it's worth acknowledging standout efforts. Ryan, who also caught his first career pass on Sunday, played as well in 2018 as any season in his career.

1. Matt Bryant secures three-game win streak heading into offseason

2018 will go down as a disappointing year for Atlanta, but Matt Bryant's 37-yard field goal as time expired at least allows the Falcons to go into the offseason on a good note. After a five-game losing streak doomed the season, the Falcons showed good resiliency and turned things around to win their final three games of the year, two of which came against division rivals.

The Falcons face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida for the last game of the 2018 season. Get your inside look here.

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