TAMPA, Fla. – The Falcons entered Sunday's game against Tampa Bay as huge underdogs. That wasn't shocking after a disappointing season opener against Philadelphia portended struggles against the defending Super Bowl champs.
There were times where that expectation seemed destined to become reality. There were others, however, where the Falcons showed real fight.
They battled back after spotting Tampa Bay an early lead that expanded to three scores in the third quarter. They started the fourth quarter down just a field goal, making a game oddsmakers predicted as an easy Bucs win anything but.
The close contest didn't last long, with Tampa Bay capitalizing on miscues to pull away late. That drops the Falcons to 0-2 on the season.
Let's go over three gut reactions after the Falcons' 48-25 loss to the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Too many mistakes vs. top opponent
The Falcons had far too many self-inflicted wounds in the season opener against Philadelphia. Penalties, especially those before the snap, were particularly harmful to that effort against the Eagles. So were missed assignments and subpar execution along both fronts.
They made far fewer the following week here in Tampa, but the Falcons were far from perfect against the Bucs. They needed to be close to that impossible standard against the defending Super Bowl champs and couldn't sustain such a level of play
That's enough to get you beat by Tampa Bay. A first-half pass interference call set the Bucs up for an easy touchdown. A third-quarter Matt Ryan interception – tipped by Vita Vea and picked by Shaq Barrett – deep in Falcons territory was another.
They negated so many of them as time wore on, working their way back into the game. It was another, a later one, that proved particularly costly. The Falcons were pinned in their own territory and punter Cameron Nizialek exacerbated the problem with a 30-yard punt that gave Tampa Bay a short field that led to an easy score.
Then Ryan threw a pick-six to Mike Edwards midway through the fourth quarter that essentially sealed it.
You might be able to make such mistakes against another team. Not the Bucs. They will capitalize on most of them and turn in a result we saw on Sunday.
Making it too easy early for Tom
Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows Tom Brady well. He has played with him and against him during his coaching career and knows how the all-time great can beat you quickly. Pees' advice: No giving up yards in massive chunks. No deep balls. The Falcons, Pees said, had to make Brady and the Bucs earn everything they get.
"You have to make them work to get down to the red zone, shrink the field, hopefully play good in the red zone, get off the field on third down," Pees said. "But the biggest thing is just don't give up easy plays, whether it's run or pass."
The Falcons didn't do a good enough job of that, especially early. Brady took yards in chunks marching down the field, finishing the first half with 8.7 yards per pass attempt. He had three 20-plus-yard completions on the first touchdown drive alone and drew an A.J. Terrell pass interference call on a deep throw that got Tampa Bay to the 1-yard line. The Bucs easily converted from there as well while building a 21-10 halftime lead. It expanded after Brady turned Ryan's interception into a touchdown.
The Falcons made life harder when the defense was stingier, and that happened at times. It wasn't quite often enough to keep things close enough for a late-game comeback. The defense was put in a bad spot by aforementioned missteps – see the previous section for examples – that brought the score to its final state.
Losing A.J. Terrell for any stretch a big blow
Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell saved two touchdowns on Sunday afternoon with acrobatic pass breakups. The first came in the first quarter, with Antonio Brown wide open in the end zone behind him.
Terrell leaped up and made a great play there and did so again deep in the third quarter on another throw intended for Brown. Terrell went sky high to break up the pass but came down awkwardly and landed with a thud.
Terrell was evaluated for a head injury and diagnosed with a concussion a short while later. He didn't come back in the game, and there's no certainty when he'll be able to return.
The Clemson product is by far the Falcons best defensive back, the steadiest and most dynamic presence in the defensive backfield. Losing him for any stretch, especially beyond Sunday's action, would be a significant setback to the Falcons defense.
Each opportunity is precious, with wins becoming essential after an 0-2 start. That gets harder if Terrell can't go. We'll have to wait and see how he develops, and what head coach Arthur Smith has to say about him in his postgame press conference and during the week, to determine how much additional time, if any, he'll miss.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 2 of 2021.