TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- In the third quarter of the Falcons Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers, there was a glimmer of hope for the Falcons. However, that glimmer was snuffed out just as quickly as it emerged. But for a moment, the Falcons were fighting back into a game they trailed 28-10 at the start of the second half.
In the third quarter, the Falcons cut the score to 28-25. But by the end of the game, Tampa Bay had taken back control, and - later - earned the win. What happened in the minutes that merged the third and fourth quarter that sealed Atlanta's fate? What were the moments that worked for the Falcons? And what were the moments that worked against them?
Let's take a closer look.
Two moments that changed the game for the Falcons
1. The defense's third quarter stand
The situation unfolded right after the Falcons offense put together an all-hands-on-deck drive to cut the score to 28-17. Tampa Bay received the kick after the touchdown and started on their own 23. What followed was a defensive stand to applaud.
On first down, Foye Oluokun stopped Leonard Fournette after a two-yard gain. As he was bringing him down, Oluokun punched the ball out. Tampa Bay recovered as it rolled out of bounds, but it unnerved an offense that hadn't showed many signs of slowly down at that point.
On second down, Tom Brady took a deep shot. The only thing standing in the way of a 30 to 40-yard reception was AJ Terrell. Terrell lifted off, slicing an arm through the air to break up the pass. It was a play that had its consequences, though, as Terrell left the game immediately after with a concussion. But he made the play, and it was one that put the Bucs behind the eight ball as they faced a third and long situation.
Then came Marlon Davidson shooting through Brady's protection. The defensive lineman tripped up Brady as Grady Jarrett followed through by getting a hand on the quarterback's already stumbling legs. It was a sack that gave the ball back to the Falcons with great field position and a lot of time on the clock in the third quarter.
It was a defensive stand that may be overlooked in the grand scheme of this game, but it's one that depicts just what this defense is capable of.
2. The offense's two-point conversion
The Falcons defense gave the ball back to the offense at the Buccaneers 46 yard line, and the unit started moving downfield. The Falcons converted on a much-needed third down after Matt Ryan hit Calvin Ridley for a 22-yard gain. Converting on third downs in the second half was something Ryan said changed the pace for Atlanta in the second half.
"That's the key," Ryan said. "You stay on the field and you convert some third downs. Some that were not ideal third down situations obviously, but we converted them. And when you do that and you have a few explosive plays, it gives you a much easier chance to score points.
When Tampa Bay was called for a facemask a few plays later, it wasn't difficult for the Falcons to punch the ball in from seven yards out with a touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson.
Arguably more exciting, though, was the Falcons successful two-point conversion that followed. From a couple yards out, Ryan kept the ball on a zone read and sailed through the air into the end zone. The Buccaneers lead shrunk to three.
It was a drive that saw the Falcons do two very important things: 1) Convert on third and long, and 2) Take advantage of the opportunities the Falcons defense (and the Buccaneers defense, too) gave them.
"We had some momentum," Ryan said. "We really did."
Two moments that changed the game for the Buccaneers
1) The Falcons' shanked punt
The momentum Ryan referred to swung when the Falcons were pinned back on their own 10 yard line following a perfect punt by Tampa Bay's Bradley Pinion at the end of the third quarter. And whereas Pinion's punt was superb, Cameron Nizialek's that followed the Atlanta three-and-out was not.
The punt traveled just 33 yards before it landed out of bounds. It allowed the Buccaneers to take over field position on the Atlanta 43 yard line. Three passes later and the Tampa Bay's offense was in the endzone, leading by a margin of 10 with nine minutes to go in the game.
And though the shanked punt was the moment that may stick with people, for Arthur Smith, he said it's the three-and-out.
"It's the lead up," Smith said. "We have to be able to convert on third and inches to not even put the punter back there."
The Falcons had a chance to keep the ball moving. Ryan had completed two passes to both Mike Davis and Patterson to get the Falcons to a short third-and-one situation. But on the third down play - a handoff to Patterson - Tampa Bay's Rakeem Nunez-Roches pushed right past Kaleb McGary to drop Patterson for a loss of three. The third down loss forced the punt.
It goes without saying that the Falcons needed to convert on that third down. If they do, they don't have to send out Nizialek. But they didn't, and this moment played right into Tampa Bay's favor.
"You've got a ballgame. It's 28-25," Smith said of the moment. "We're backed up and we get to third and inches and we don't convert."
Later he added: "We didn't convert. They did. And that was the difference."
2) The first of Matt Ryan's two pick-sixes
The first pick-six to Mike Edwards was the nail in the proverbial coffin for Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. The second was the Buccaneers metaphorically dancing on the Falcons' grave. But let's focus in on the first one, because it's the one that really sealed the deal for the Tampa Bay win.
Ryan's passes had been batted down and tipped all afternoon, but this was a pass that really wasn't. It was just a really good play by Edwards who jumped the route on third and medium.
If we're continuing on with the cliches, because of when this pick-six occurred it took any remaining wind out of the Falcons' sails. The score was stretched to 41-25. There was no recovering from this dagger (hey, look, another cliche).
Looking back, Ryan was under pressure. Tampa Bay had blitzed a linebacker, who came untouched through the protection. It didn't allow the intended receiver (Russell Gage) time to fully turn towards the throw. But still, it could have been avoided.