Bucs wake up, rally to beat Falcons

by Gary Shelton on December 21, 2020

in general

Brown caught his first touchdown pass./TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Monday, 4 a.m.

The first half was about memories, about all those wasted opportunities, about squandered talent, about hopeless game plans.

It was Leeman bad. It was Freeman bad. It was Sabby bad and Lars bad and McCants bad.

After two quarters, it didn't appear the Bucs would make the playoffs. Heck, it appeared the Bucs wouldn't be legally allowed to talk about the playoffs. It was awful on top of putrid and surrounded by the miserable. The Bucs trailed 17-0, and the question was how this team ever won eight of its first 13 games to begin with.

Ah, but the second half? The second half was about possibilities, about resilience, about urgency.

It was Brady good. It was Evans good. It was Devin White good and Antonio Brown good and Lavante David good.

The Bucs neared the mountain top -- the playoffs -- Sunday afternoon, but first, it dug itself a trench. The Bucs played a horrible first half, a half that made you want to close your eyes. The Falcons -- the good, old collapsible Falcons -- blew a lead for the eighth time in 14 games, and the Bucs charged from a 17-0 deficit to win 31-27.

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It was the second comeback from 17 down of the year, going along with the team's win over the Chargers.

How could the team of the first half ever win a game? How could a team of the second half ever lose one? It was as bad -- and as good -- as a team can play.

Coach Bruce Arians, too, was mystified by the contrast of the first and second halves.

“It’s the way (the second half) we’re capable [of playing] – that’s the way we should be playing," Arians said. "My comments to the team after the game [were], ‘If we can play 30 minutes like that, why can’t we play 60?’ It’s frustrating. The first third down, we’re off the field [but] we miss a tackle on a check down to a back and the whole game changes. We get blown up on a screen pass, lose 15 yards on a screen pass that we catch, which kills the first drive. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.

"We talked about it at halftime – we got the ball, go make something happen. I was not really happy that they went back, scored and answered it. Then, we were able to score every time we touched it in the second half – I think – until the end and finish it off. The defense came alive, we kind of figured them out and the pass rush started getting home.”

Start with quarterback Tom Brady. He threw for just 53 yards in the first half. He threw for 337 in the second. Mike Evans caught passes for 93 yards in the second half (17 yards in the first half). Antonio Brown caught passes for 87 yards in the second half (six in the first half). The Bucs had three sacks in the second half (all by White); none in the first.

"It was great poise by everybody," Brady said. "Everybody hung in there. We got off to a tough start, but found a way to win. Defense came up huge [and] made some big stops. Offensively, everyone made a bunch of different plays and it was a great win for our team. We’re going to have to keep building on it.”

Got it? It was raggedy to richness.

It was the third fourth-quarter comeback for Brady with the Bucs. He has 39 (plus nine in the post-season) in his career.

One of his key targets in the second half was Brown, who scored for the first time as a Buc.

“We had it called earlier. It was just straight ‘Go’ [routes] by him and Mike [Evans] and Chris [Godwin] in the middle," Arians said. "They played Cover 2 and we hit Chris in the middle. [We] came back and I love the call Byron [Leftwich] made. A.B. (Brown) blew by [the defense]. They both were wide open by five yards and it was just pick your poison. I was really happy to see A.B. get in the end zone. It was good for him and good for all of us.”

Said Brady: “It was great. He’s been working hard at that and [we] finally got him an opportunity to touch one of those. Mike [Evans] did a good job on the other side, the safety kind of got stuck in the middle and A.B. (Brown) just ran right by him. I put it out there for him [and] he made a great catch. Love seeing him get in the end zone.”

Arians enjoys watching Brady's fourth-quarter magic.

“He’s just a winner," Arians said. "He knows how to do it. I don’t know about my history – if you’re talking about last year – but Tom has always been a fourth-quarter player and we won a lot of games in Arizona in the fourth quarter. It’s kind of what we expect to do.”

The Bucs continue to be one of the NFL's worst teams in the first period. Once again, they got off to a slow start.

“That’s what I talked to them [about]," Arians said. "We lost to the Chiefs and the Rams by three [points]. Both of those games spotting them [points] and playing this way. It’s not going to happen. You’re not going to beat those good teams playing this way. We’ve got to play better in the first half than we played today.”

Brady, too, knows that the Bucs can't continue to spot other teams head starts.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best for 60 minutes as opposed to 30. It was a good win by us. Everyone loves winning, but we also want to play better. We want to play our best and I think next week gives us another opportunity to try to do our best. It’s a tough week because it’s Christmas, but [we have] got to focus on what we’ve got to do. We’ve worked pretty hard to get to this point, but there’s still a lot left ahead of us.”

Brown was glad to finally see the end zone.

“Anytime you play with a guy like Tom, it’s encouraging," Brown said. "He’s seen it all [and] done it all. He’s been in so many games, so many situations so to be in a comeback with him is unbelievable. I’m grateful to be on the receiving side of it. Late in the game, he made a great throw – he hit me right in the numbers. I had the opportunity to put the team ahead and it was a great play.

“It’s been a long journey for me. Anytime I get that opportunity, [I’m] always grateful [and] thankful to God. As soon as I caught it, I went straight to my knees and called God and gave praise. [I’m] extremely grateful to be here with Tampa Bay and have the opportunity to live out my dream and play football – it’s something I love to do. I know not only was I excited, but I know my close friends and family and my kids are all excited for me.” 

White's second-half play was huge.

"The big difference is we came out with more energy and we did everything the coaches told us to do," White said. "In this league, you’ve just got to be at the right place at the right time and you’ve just got to play within the scheme. I feel like every time it’s a hit and miss, great players will make you pay for it. On defense – all I can speak for is defense – we had to pay for it. I just played instinct football. I was seeing some things and I was taking advantage of it for me to get those sacks. I felt like it was going to help my team get off the field and give us a lot more energy to finish the game. I’m a team player and that’s all I’m about. I had to do what I had to do to help the team – whatever I can do to help the team. [If] I need to get a pick to help the team [I’ll do it]. Whatever I have to do, I’m willing to do it.”

The Bucs play at Detroit on Saturday at 1 p.m.


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