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Falcons Defense Crumbles Against Tom Brady's Bucs, 30-17

Tom Brady improved to 9-0 in the regular season against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

ATLANTA -- Tom Brady never seems to fail at providing plenty of drama against the Atlanta Falcons. And for a brief moment Sunday, it felt as though the Falcons may beat Brady for the first time in 10 games.

But as quickly as Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson returned his one-handed interception of Brady for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter, Brady quickly got back on track, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 30-17 victory against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 13.

Davidson's interception likely rekindled memories of Robert Alford's pick-six of Brady early in Super Bowl LI. That play gave the Falcons a 21-0 lead in the final minutes of the first half in that Super Bowl.

But Falcons fans remember how that game ended. Brady responded with a field-goal drive to end that half, and then the New England Patriots scored 31 straight points to win in overtime.

Brady answered in a similar fashion Sunday. The only difference was, unlike in the Super Bowl, Brady was also spectacular prior to Davidson's pick-six. In the box score, the interception is just a small blemish on one of Brady's best games of the season.

The 44-year-old quarterback completed 38 of 51 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. In two games against the Falcons this season, Brady threw for nine touchdowns with the lone interception.

Brady spread the ball around to nine different receivers. The game plan early was obvious -- feed Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette. On the first drive, the Buccaneers had 13 pass attempts versus zero runs with Godwin and Fournette combining for 10 of the 13 targets.

Fournette caught Brady's first touchdown to give the Buccaneers an early lead. Despite Davidson's pick-six to pull the Falcons within three points at halftime, Atlanta never led in the game.

Godwin finished with a team-high 15 receptions and 143 yards. In addition to Fournette, tight ends Rob Gronkowski (2) and Cameron Brate (1) caught Brady's other touchdown passes.

The Falcons had a lot of success on the ground for a second straight week. Behind 69 rushing yards on the first drive, Atlanta scored its first opening-drive touchdown of the year. 

Said Atlanta QB Matt Ryan:"I really think there were chances for us to really change the outcome of this game."

But falling behind by double digits in the second quarter seemed to discourage  coach Arthur Smith from staying with the running game. Atlanta averaged 5.3 yards per carry with Cordarrelle Patterson running for 78 yards. Mike Davis ran hard too, posting 32 yards and a touchdown on just four carries.

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There was no better example of Smith abandoning the running game than on a key possession in the first half. After a penalty gave Atlanta a first-and-goal opportunity at the 1-yard line, the Falcons threw two incompletion passes and fumbled a snap which resulted in a loss of two yards. Smith settled for a field goal, and the missed chance for more points prove costly, as the Falcons trailed by 10 or more for all of the fourth quarter.

Ryan finished 30 for 41 with 297 yards. He avoided throwing an interception for the first time since Week 9, but Ryan also didn't have a touchdown pass.

To begin the second half, the Falcons had an opportunity to tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown. But after a nice catch and run for 20 yards, wide receiver Russell Gage fumbled. Tampa Bay didn't score on the ensuing drive but the possession after that to go back ahead by 10 points. 

With a lead the entire second half, the Buccaneers pass rush teed off on the Falcons offensive line. Tampa Bay recorded five sacks while on the other side of the ball, the pressure on Brady was non-existent. Atlanta had zero sacks and one quarterback hit.

The Falcons offense managed only 94 yards in the second half before beginning their garbage-time drive that padded the statistics in the final two minutes. 

Gage led the team with 11 catches and 131 yards. Kyle Pitts posted four receptions for 48 yards.

With the loss, the Falcons fell to 5-7 and a half game further out of the last playoff spot in the NFC.

The loss also dropped the Falcons to 0-5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.

Next week, the Falcons will have another rematch with a division rival -- this time on the road against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is on a bye week and fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady on Sunday.

The Falcons lost to the Panthers, 19-13, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on Halloween.

"We have to be ready to go because the opportunity is still there,'' coach Arthur Smith said.