Sunday's meeting between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again proved to be an offensive shootout that featured a back-and-forth second half highlighted by many explosive plays, but the Buccaneers proved to be better team and emerged with a 44-27 victory in the season finale for Atlanta.
A 4-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin late in the fourth quarter put the Buccaneers up by double digits, and the Falcons' attempt to answer their opponent's fourth touchdown of the game came to an abrupt end after Calvin Ridley was stripped of the ball and lost possession for Atlanta. That late turnover gave the Buccaneers possession in Falcons territory and allowed Brady and his offense time to seal the game away with a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.
It was yet another disappointing result for a Falcons team that was once again competitive against a team headed to the postseason. The 2020 season was defined by pivotal fourth-quarter moments, and Sunday proved to be no different. While Atlanta picked things up in the second half and showed plenty of spirit against its division rival, the Falcons couldn't ultimately overcome a red-hot Brady and the Buccaneers' stable of receivers. Also of note: Tampa Bay accomplished what it did without lead receiver Mike Evans for much of the afternoon after the Pro Bowler suffered a knee injury in the first quarter.
The Buccaneers scored on eight of their nine offensive possessions on Sunday, excluding their final one of the game in which they took to the victory formation to clinch their decisive win.
Tampa Bay followed up a 10-point third quarter for Atlanta with an smooth touchdown drive that covered 65 yards in nine plays. As was often the case on Sunday, Antonio Brown was the go-to guy for Brady on the drive. He caught three passes for 34 yards and set the Buccaneers up to score their first touchdown of the second half on a 3-yard run by Ronald Jones. It was a momentary blow to the rhythm Atlanta appeared to be settling into, but the Falcons responded in impressive fashion.
On the second play of Atlanta's ensuing offensive drive, Brian Hill broke free around the right end and sprinted 62 yards to flip the field and put the Falcons at Tampa Bay's 4-yard line. Todd Gurley couldn't cross the goal line on second or third down, setting up a big decision on fourth down. Raheem Morris elected to keep the offense out there, and the decision paid off for him as Ryan connected with Hayden Hurst for a 1-yard score that cut the Buccaneers' lead to 30-27.
An interception by safety Ricardo Allen on Tampa Bay's first possession of the second half, resulted in an impressive 15-play drive by the Falcons that lasted nearly the remainder of the third quarter and allowed them to tack on three more points. The drive featured a converted fourth-and-2, but the Falcons couldn't come away with a touchdown as Ryan's pass for Laquon Treadwell on third-and-goal was knocked away at the goal line.
Atlanta was able to cut into Tampa Bay's lead just before halftime with its first touchdown of the game. After a tremendous effort by Hayden Hurst was ruled to be just short of the goal line, Ryan punched it in on a 1-yard sneak. The Falcons then carried that momentum over after halftime, cutting into the lead even further.
Starting with the ball in the third quarter, Ryan led the offense on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage. Gage was vital to the drive's success, catching four passes for 46 yards and the touchdown. Atlanta's touchdown to start the second half made it a one-score game and portended the competitive second half to come.
The first half of the first meeting between these two teams was dominated by Atlanta. On Sunday, it was Tampa Bay that cruised during the first two quarters.
The Buccaneers scored on each of their five first-half possessions and built a 23-10 lead before halftime. After giving up a 68-yard touchdown drive to start the game, Atlanta's defense did settle down a bit and held Tampa Bay to three field goals. However, the Falcons couldn't generate any type of pass rush in the first half, allowing Brady to stand comfortably in the pocket and find open receivers.
In yet another reverse of the first meeting between these teams, Brady found an early rhythm and looked as sharp as ever in the first half. He completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts for 202 yards with two touchdowns – to Chris Godwin and Brown – and no interceptions before halftime.
An extremely disappointing 2020 season comes to an end for the Falcons, and it brings about an offseason that is expected to be filled with changes as the organization looks for a new direction.