Down 17 points to the Atlanta Falcons at halftime and then again late in the third quarter on Sunday, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does.
The Bucs stormed back to tie the game with 11 minutes left, then, Brady hit Antonio Brown for an eventual 46-yard game-winning touchdown to steal a 31-27 victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was deja vu for poor Matt Ryan, but more importantly the Bucs remained in the hunt for one of the top seeds in the NFC, moving to 9-5 on the year.
It hasn’t been pretty by any means and there are still some serious questions swirling around Tampa as the playoffs quickly approach. The Bucs offense has continued to be wildly inconsistent all year and the defense often digs the offense some huge holes, but this may have been the most important win of the year for Bruce Arians and company.
“If we can play 30 minutes like that, why the hell can’t we play 60?” Arians said to his team after the win. “It’s frustrating, but I couldn’t be prouder of how our guys fought.”
Tampa Bay trailed 7-0 after one quarter thanks to a 5-yard TD pass from Ryan (34-49/356/3) to Russell Gage. Atlanta pushed it to 17-0 at the half on a 12-yard TD reception for Calvin Ridley (10/163/1) ) and a Younghoe Koo 32-yard field goal.
The Bucs finally got on the board with 11:28 left in the third on a Leonard Fournette 1-yard TD run. Atlanta answered with a Hayden Hurst 7-yard touchdown to push the lead back up to 24-7 with 7:34 left. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, they were about to get a history lesson from TB12.
Brady (31-45/390/2) hit Chris Godwin from 4-yards out to cut it to 24-14 and Fournette added another 1-yard plunge with just five seconds to go, making it 24-21 Falcons heading to the fourth.
Ryan Succop tied the game with a 27-yard field goal early in the final frame, but Koo put Atlanta back up by three on a 52-yard field goal with 8:22 left. Brady needed just four plays to put Tampa Bay ahead for good, launching an absolute missile to Brown who caught it in stride for the 31-27 lead with 6:19 remaining. The Bucs defense forced a punt and downs to end the game.
“”Honestly, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. You never want to be in a game where you’re down 17 points at halftime and now your back is against the wall,” said Godwin. “I’m very proud of the way we all fought as a team. It felt like we were all clicking in the second half and really started to put it together. I think the goal now is to be able to put together four quarters of football because I don’t know if we’ve done that yet this year. We’ve had our growing pains, but I like that we’re being resilient, we’re fighting and we’re staying together. It’s only up from here.”
Of course, guys like Chris Godwin aren’t used to pulling out those types of games, but that’s the Brady effect. With that in mind, do we really think the Bucs can make it to a Super Bowl if they’re still this inconsistent?
The answer is yes simply because of Brady. There’s something to be said for changing a culture, and the win on Sunday may have been the first true bit of change the Bucs have had all year. Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle will all pose threats to Brady’s chase for ring number seven, but this win in Atlanta can’t be brushed aside because it was against the lowly Falcons.
Brady is on a mission, and as ugly as it’s looked, that type of game might be the spark that was necessary for Tampa Bay to get it right before there’s no margin for error in a few weeks.
“It was a great win for our team, and we’re going to have to keep building,” Brady said postgame. “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’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point, but there’s still a lot left ahead of us.”