ATLANTA — It was the tale of two halves for the Bucs defense, which needs to put down the shovels because it keeps digging first-half holes for the offense.
Against the Steelers, they trailed 30-7 at halftime. Against the Bears, it was 38-3. And on Sunday, the Bucs had few answers for the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan.
The Falcons offense had 219 yards and three touchdowns on its first three drives and scored on four of its first five possessions to build 21-6 lead.
"We got them in third-and-long, but we couldn't get off the field in the first half,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "They finished 8-for-12 on third down, but in the first half, they did a good job when it was third-and-9, third-and-17. … we couldn't get off the field.''
Ryan has owned Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, his former head coach in Atlanta. He is 4-1 with four, 300-yard games, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. On Sunday, Ryan completed 31 of 41 passes for 354 yards with three TDs and no INTs. He was only sacked once.
But in the second half, the Falcons had only 195 yards on seven drives, with one TD and two field goals.
"We pressured a lot more today,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "We hit Matt a few times. He hung in there and made some nice throws, but we couldn't get off. The second half, the defense did an excellent job getting off the field. The first two possessions, man, we were right down there and we came up with three points. We can't play the tale of two halves. We can't do that.''
Tale of two kickers
Anytime the difference in the game is a field goal, you have to figure the kicking game played a big role.
It did Sunday, as Bucs placekicker Chandler Catanzaro played buzzkill by missing the PAT after his team drove 75 yards with the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Of course, the Bucs wound up chasing that point all afternoon.
With 11:34 remaining in the game, Chris Godwin caught a 9-yard TD pass from Jameis Winston to cut the Falcons lead to 24-22. The Bucs decided to go for the two-point conversion to tie the game. But Winston was pressured and his pass to RB Ronald Jones fell incomplete.
"It hurts to miss an extra point right off the bat,'' Koetter said. "You get off to a fast start, and it's a little bit deflating to miss an extra point. But Chandler feels worse than anybody else. It's not like no one is fired up about it. We've got guys making mistakes and different guys making different mistakes on different plays, and that was his.''
"So, you're chasing points the rest of the game. But would it have mattered at the end? That's hard to say.''
Of course, the Falcons have reliable 43-year-old kicker Matt Bryant, who was as perfect as a kicker can be Sunday.
In fact, the confidence the Falcons showed in him was risky.
With the Bucs needing only a field goal to win, and having stopped the Falcons near midfield with no timeouts and 1:10 to play, coach Dan Quinn took the chance of having Bryant attempt a 57-yard field goal.
Had Bryant missed, the Bucs would've take over at their own 46-yard line. But if you know anything about Bryant, he haunts his former Tampa Bay team. Naturally, he made the 57-yard field goal and forced the Bucs to need a touchdown to win.
"You know, when you've got a kicker that you trust, you can do that,'' Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. "I think we would do the same thing with (Catanzaro) the way he has been kicking. (Bryant) has been in the game a long time. I mean, you think about Graham Gano, the Panthers lined up from 63 yards, and he could've made it from 70. That guy, he's a good kicker, and that's why special teams is a big part of this game as well.''
No chemistry with Jackson
Stop us if you've heard this before. Winston had trouble getting the football to WR DeSean Jackson, who was targeted nine times Sunday but caught only four passes for 77 yards. Once again, one of the deep balls launched in Jackson's direction Sunday was off target and intercepted.
"Yeah, he was just trying to make a play,'' Jackson said. "It's unfortunate the safety was back there. As a receiver, you like your quarterback to take chances, you just can't get them picked off.''
DT Gerald McCoy suffered a right calf injury and was in a walking boot after the game. … CB Ryan Smith suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and did not return.