ATLANTA -- The Falcons entered Sunday's game against Tampa Bay as underdogs. They didn't play like one.
The home team kept it close in a game with the Super Bowl champs, tangled in a one-score game late in the third quarter.
That's when the Buccaneers started to pull away, eventually securing a 30-17 victory over the Falcons here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons remain winless at home, with two opportunities to remedy that this season.
The Falcons got a few big plays, including Mike Davis' touchdown run in the first quarter and a pick-six from Marlon Davidson to close out the first half, but let some golden opportunities get away. That included a converted third down that Russell Gage fumbled away, and taking four snaps from inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line and coming away with a field goal.
The offense struggled in the second half, largely because they couldn't protect quarterback Matt Ryan. That was a real issue after the Buccaneers went up multiple scores.
The Falcons fell back to 5-7, off the NFC playoff pace, still unable to notch a win against a top team inside or outside the conference. They'll have to rebound well and beat the Panthers in Carolina to stay somewhat in the hunt.
Before we start looking ahead, here are three gut reactions to this result:
Too many missed opportunities
The Falcons played four downs inside the Tampa Bay 5, including two from 1. They came away with a field goal. That's a bad turn for the Falcons, while trying to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Bucs.
They threw two incomplete passes, including one from the shotgun, and had a botched snap, ultimately losing four points on the scoring exchange.
Then, in the second half, Russell Gage converted a long third down, but fumbled the ball while he was running after the catch. Tampa Bay recovered, and while they didn't score off the turnover, it was another promising drive that ultimately didn't lead to points.
You can't let opportunities slip away against a good team like Tampa Bay, which was able to stay ahead despite the Falcons doing some positive things. The Falcons were in this one late and will probably look back at this game as an opportunity missed, especially with how tight things are among those fighting for the NFC's final playoff spot.
Falcons don't have answer for top playmakers
The Buccaneers have some excellent skill players. Tom Brady has quality options throughout the pattern, with Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as top-tier threats with the greatest quarterback ever throwing passes.
Those three beat the Falcons time and again, especially on crucial downs and scoring plays.
Godwin broke a franchise record for catches in a single game, Gronkowksi had two touchdowns and Evans was big on third downs especially. The Falcons don't currently have the size and speed, overall, in the secondary to handle those guys when the pass rush is struggling to generate heat.
The Falcons kept it close for a while, but couldn't slow the Buccaneers offense enough to give an uneven Falcons attack, which struggled mightily to protect Matt Ryan, the chance required to make up a deficit.
Falcons (still) running strong
The Falcons largely inefficient run game had a breakthrough last week, with an excellent performance in Jacksonville.
Had the ground game turned a corner? Only if the Falcons were able to repeat it.
That was going to be a tough task against Tampa Bay, which owned the NFL's best run defense. No matter. The Falcons were still able to run strong.
They had 63 yards rushing on the opening drive, triple digits early in the second quarter and 121 overall in this one, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. That was due to hard running from Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis and Qadree Ollison, assisted greatly by the Falcons offensive line. Right guard Chris Lindstrom was particularly strong in this effort, a positive sign that Arthur Smith's respected run game is showing signs of life. His commitment to it has been vital, allowing it to evolve and progress over the course of the season.
It wasn't as impactful in the second half, when the Falcons found it harder to move at an efficient clip. And, as the game swung a bit, the Falcons were forced to pass more and become less balanced and the Bucs pass rush was able to make its mark.
Call for questions
Let's fill up the mailbag with this result fresh in your minds. Submit your questions about this game against Tampa Bay and the Falcons moving forward through the season (and beyond, if you want) right here for inclusion in Monday's Bair Mail.
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