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Falcons beat Tom Brady for first time as Bucs pull starters to avoid injuries

By newadmin / Published on Monday, 09 Jan 2023 05:39 AM / No Comments / 4 views


ATLANTA — For the Bucs, Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Falcons had the awkward feel of a preseason game: key starters sitting out or getting pulled early, an outcome that ultimately didn’t matter and a postgame need to look ahead and not back in any way.

“Everything will be determined by what we do from here moving forward,” said Tom Brady, who went to the bench late in the second quarter with the score tied at the time. “Hopefully, we’ve learned a lot from what’s happened over the course of this season, and now we just have to go put our best foot out there.”

The second half Sunday was hard to watch, and unfortunately, that’s all most of the Tampa Bay starters could do.

Knowing the outcome couldn’t change their playoff seeding, the Bucs chose to pull most of their key players — beyond the nine who didn’t play at all — and basically chose to take a loss rather than take any significant injury. Up 17-10 at the half, the Bucs backups struggled and Atlanta outscored them 20-0 after halftime for a 30-17 Falcons victory.

Falcons have huge second-half comeback to beat Bucs

The Falcons took down the Buccaneers 30-17 with a big second-half comeback. Atlanta rookie QB Desmond Ridder threw his first two NFL touchdowns and Tyler Allgeier ran for 135 yards.

“It’s a one-and-done season,” coach Todd Bowles said of his team’s margin for error moving forward. “We’ll get ready to play and roll up the wagon, see who we play and try like hell to win a ballgame.”

With Sunday’s loss, the Bucs finish with a losing record at 8-9 — a first in Tom Brady’s 21 seasons as a starting quarterback — and Brady also took his first loss to the Falcons in 12 career meetings. But they knew going in they were locked into the NFC’s No. 4 seed, which lined them up with the conference’s best wild card. Hours after they lost, the Bucs learned that would be the Cowboys, whom Tampa Bay played in Dallas in the season opener, winning impressively by a 19-3 score. The date and time of their game will be announced shortly.

Sunday’s game began well — Brady led the Bucs to a touchdown on their opening drive, throwing an 8-yard score to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Even after Brady was out of the game, the defense forced a fumble that linebacker Devin White recovered, setting up a short field for backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw a touchdown to receiver Russell Gage for a 17-10 halftime lead.

The second half, with backups at nearly all positions, wasn’t pretty. The Falcons starters outscored the Bucs 20-0, outgained them by a 304-38 margin and had 17 first downs to just one for the Bucs. The Falcons’ rookies led the way, with Tyler Allgeier rushing for 135 yards and quarterback Desmond Ridder throwing his first two NFL touchdowns for a second straight win.

Can the Bucs forget a meaningless loss and focus on what they can now do, healthy, against a tough playoff opponent? Dallas was the only team the Bucs beat this season that had a winning record entering Sunday, but the Cowboys are the only team they have to worry about this week.

“We’re just ready to look forward to our playoff game. Whoever we play, we’re going to get ready for that game,” said safety Antoine Winfield, a rare starter to play the entire game Sunday, finishing with a game-high 13 tackles. “We’re not looking at anything else. That’s the most important thing right now.”

Todd Bowles speaks on Tampa Bay winning the NFC South

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles talks about his team’s ability to clinch the NFC South last week.

That the Bucs have a losing record is one thing, but they were outscored by 45 points on the season. In the past 10 years, only three NFL teams made the playoff with a worse differential: the 2021 Steelers (-65), the 2017 Bills (-57) and the 2016 Texans (-49), though Houston actually won a playoff game that year. Brady said he has been on great regular-season teams that didn’t fare well in the playoffs, and the opposite has been true for him as well.

Tampa Bay held out nine players Sunday: receivers Mike Evans and Julio Jones, tackles Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith, defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis, safeties Mike Edwards and Logan Ryan and outside linebacker Carl Nassib. In theory, all nine could be active next week with the extra week to recover from injuries and illness.

The Bucs could have a few new injuries to deal with, most notably starting center Robert Hainsey, who left the game early with a hamstring injury. Left guard Nick Leverett filled in for Hainsey Sunday, and if he can’t go next week, the Bucs could also look at Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, who hasn’t played since a knee injury in July and returned to practice two weeks ago.

The regular season is over, and the Bucs are fortunate to have a home playoff game to prepare for despite their losing record. They didn’t have much to hang their hat on Sunday, but a touchdown on the opening drive — before their best players started going to the bench — is something they’ll try to build on.

“I think that’s something we can really carry into the playoffs,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “We had a good offensive showing last game, and we had a couple good possessions in the first half of this game. So, I think the biggest thing is everyone’s starting from scratch right now. It’s about who’s healthiest, who’s operating the best, and matchups. Regardless of what happens, who we play, we have to bring our A-game. It’s win or go home, and we have to approach it with that intensity.”

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Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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