The Bucs are ready to visit Atlanta. It isn’t often that a game in week six of the NFL season is labeled as a season-defining game, but both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons come into their matchup on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium hungry for a win.
After beginning the year with wins against New Orleans and Philadelphia, FitzMagic has run out of tricks for the Bucs. Losses against Pittsburgh and Chicago and the return of Jameis Winston from suspension have sent Ryan Fitzpatrick back to the bench and put a damper on what looked to be one of the best developing stories in the league this season.
Winston couldn’t have picked a better opponent for his first start. He will square off against a Falcons defense that has surrendered 12 touchdown passes this year, the second worst total in the league.
Throw in the fact that Atlanta seems to bring out the best in Winston, and this could be a big week for the Buccaneer signal caller. In five career games against Atlanta, he has thrown for 1,245 yards and 12 touchdowns, with just two interceptions, while adding two rushing touchdowns to his totals.
Winston said growing up in Bessemer, Ala., just an hour away from Atlanta, is a motivating factor for him when he faces the Falcons.
“It’s always been a dream to compete against Atlanta and win against Atlanta,” Winston said. “Definitely going back to Atlanta is like a home game for me. That’s how I view it because all my family, they come up. They show up and hopefully I’ll show out for them.”
About the Falcons
Hopes were high in Atlanta that the team might be able to regain the form in 2018 that led it to the Super Bowl two years ago.
Offensively, the Falcons appear to be more than capable of being a championship unit. The team is scoring nearly 27 points per game and has found another offensive gem in rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has put up Pro Bowl numbers in his first five games of the season, tossing 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while throwing for 1,601 yards. More than half of those touchdown passes have gone to Ridley, who leads the league with six scores through the air.
The Falcons, however, have a familiar problem, as they can’t seem to stop many teams. Atlanta is 31st in the league, allowing 32 points a game this year. The only defense giving up more points than the Falcons? Tampa Bay.
About the Buccaneers
The last time Tampa saw the field it was blistered for 38 points in the opening half of a 48-10 loss at Chicago. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky threw six touchdown passes in the game against a defensive secondary that has now surrendered 13 touchdown passes and has only one interception to its credit.
Whether it’s the defenders up front – Tampa is tied for 27th in the league with eight sacks – or the secondary, questions are starting to swirl around the league’s worst defense and coordinator Mike Smith.
Head coach Dirk Koetter said it’s more than just Smith who is responsible for the team’s poor defensive play.
“Every week, every game, it’s way bigger than any one guy,” Koetter said. “It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than Mike [Smith]. It’s bigger than Gerald McCoy. It’s bigger than any one person – it’s a team game.”
Tampa’s defense has been stout against the run this season, ranking fourth in the league, surrendering only 84 yards a contest.
Perhaps a stronger ground game on the other side when the Bucs visit Atlanta will aid Tampa’s defense, helping keep it off the field if the offense can control the ball and give its defensive counterparts a little rest. The Bucs are averaging a little less than 70 yards a game this year, which ranks 30th in the league for a team that is second overall in total offense.
“From an efficiency standpoint, we’re not where we need to be, but the flip side of that is our passing efficiency is off the charts,” Koetter said when asked about the Buc’s running game. “There’s a point of sometimes you’ve just got to go with what works and not worry about it.”
Did you know?
The Buccaneers have 1,453 passing yards through the first four games. The team needs 44 more to pass 2017 (1,496) for the most passing yards through the first five games in Buccaneers history.
Series at a Glance
Overall regular season series: Atlanta leads series, 25-24
Road Record vs. Atlanta:10-13
Current Streak: Falcons, three games (11/3/16-12/18/17)
How to Watch
Watch the Bucs visit to Atlanta locally on FOX with Thom Brenaman calling the play-by-play, Chris Spielman providing color analysis and Karyn Bryant reporting from the sideline.
How to Listen
Local Broadcast: 98ROCK (97.9 FM) or on Satellite Radio: Sirius/XM Channel 226
After enduring three straight weeks – including the bye week – without a home game, Tampa is back at Raymond James Stadium next Sunday when it hosts Cleveland. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST.
Content provided by Shawn LaFata for Destination Tampa Bay. Content and photos courtesy of the Tampa Bay Bucs photographer Kyle Zedaker and the Atlanta Falcons.
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