Buccaneers Defeat Falcons, Remain in NFC Playoff Picture

Ken Cross

December 13, 2023 at 12:12 am.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sailed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a must-win situation and defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 29-25, on Sunday. The game ended when linebacker SirVocea Dennis and safety Christian Izien stopped Atlanta wide receiver Drake London on the three-yard line as time ran out.  

The strength of that defensive play was shared by a pair of rookies who about a minute earlier had seen quarterback Baker Mayfield hit another rookie in tight end Cade Otton with a touchdown pass for a 29-25 lead with 31 seconds remaining. 

“That drive started with a couple prior, being able to run the ball,” explained Mayfield. “It wasn’t a true two-minute. We got it really, really going in that situation.” 

Mayfield had moved the Buccaneers to the Atlanta 47-yard line and they faced a 3rd-and-10 with just over a minute to play.  

Mayfield hit Chris Godwin with an out route on the right side where Godwin covered by Dee Alford. Mayfield threw the ball over the Atlanta defensive back after Godwin had him beaten over the top.  

Godwin caught the ball on the Falcons 29-yard line and ran for 14 more yards to the Atlanta 15. 

“We were playing a four-down situation right there and just trying to get a couple of yards,” acknowledged Mayfield. “Chris ran a great route. Man coverage, he’s run that a thousand times.” 

As Alford was underneath Godwin after the move, Mayfield threw the ball in a target area which allowed Godwin to play-make. 

“Just trying my best to win on my route,” explained Godwin. “Just wanted to trust on the fact that Baker was gonna put the ball where it needed to be. That was a big point in the game for us.” 

Two plays later, Otton’s touchdown pushed the Buccaneers into the 29-25 lead when, at 6-5, he was in a one-on-one mismatch with 6-0 Atlanta safety Richie Grant. Mayfield delivered the ball over the top to Otton, who secured the pass. 

“It says a lot about our character,” said Otton. “We believe. We compete. Nothing ever changes that. We practice two minutes (drills) all the time, just to know what we are going to run and how we are going to get it done. Everyone just chooses to focus on every play and do their job.” 

The resilience of the Buccaneers was on display in how they viewed the drive. Nearing field goal range, the team looked for a touchdown to win the game, not forcing overtime with a field goal. 

“When we have the ball, we have to score,” said Mayfield. “We have to have that mentality. We have a lot of success in two-minute drives. We need to have that mentality and so we will look at it and see if guys are doing anything differently.” 

Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles highlighted the resilience and the urgency that Mayfield talked about in the postgame. 

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Bowles. “Played them tough the first time and we lost it. Played them tough this game. Offense came down and had a heckuva drive and then we held them out of the end zone at the end of the game.”

Godwin and Otton knew their playmaking would be key in the clutch as Atlanta had made a certifiable effort to stop Mike Evans, who only had one catch for eight yards.

“Their game plan was to take Mike out of the ball game,” explained Mayfield. “It was very, very obvious. They were running a lot of man coverage and bringing the safety up, wherever he was at.” 

Otton’s touchdown catch arguably was the biggest of the season as it pushed Tampa Bay into first place in the NFC South even though the Bucs are tied with the Saints and Falcons at 6-7.