The Buccaneers didn’t do much to silence the critics that want to see Dirk Koetter ejected from the coach’s seat on Monday night. Quarterback Jameis Winston might have silenced a few of his critics, however.
Though it wasn’t enough to keep the Bucs from dropping their fourth straight game, Winston put together one of the best games of his career during a 24-21 loss at Raymond James Stadium.
Winston completed 27-of-35 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns and had the Bucs on position to tie the game at the end when Patrick Murray’s 54-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
The loss came on a night when the Bucs inducted former coach Jon Gruden into their Ring of Honor, which created a bit of an awkward situation for Koetter, whose future seems uncertain.
But if it’s improvement from Winston that the Bucs owners want to see to consider keeping Koetter in place for a third season then this game should leave him in good standing.
The 77-percent completion rate was the best of Winston’s career and it came on a night when he was asked to hit mostly on short throws and quick timing routes, an approach the Bucs have seldom used with Winston.
The Bucs were seeking to avenge an earlier loss to the Falcons in which Atlanta wideout Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-20 loss.
The Bucs kept this one closer and did a much better job of containing Jones, was limited to three catches for 54 yards, all of which came in the first half. Not that it really mattered all that much.
After going three and out on their first possession, the Falcons shifted their attack into high gear and scored on each of their next three possessions to build a 17-7 halftime lead.
A 6-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy accounted for Atlanta’s first score while the second came when tight end Levine Toiolo recovered a Devonta Freeman fumble the end zone.
The Bucs scored a touchdown of their own in between when tight end O.J. Howard took a short outlet pass and turned into a 30-yard touchdown with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
The Bucs were in position to tie the game one series later but that opportunity was ripped from their hands when safety Keanu Neal forced a Peyton Barber fumble at the end of a 4-yard run to the Atlanta 5.
The Falcons used that fumble to put together a series that culminated with former Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant kicking a 57-yard field goal to finish out the first half scoring.
The Bucs cut the Falcons lead to 17-14 midway through the third quarter when Winston hit Evans with a deep throw into the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown pass.
The Bucs came up with another big play with 1:16 left in the third quarter when Will Gholston blocked a 33-yard Bryant field goal try but the Bucs failed to build any momentum off it.
Instead, it was the Falcons who scored next, this time on a 24-yard run by Freeman that came with 7:58 left in the fourth quarter and gave Atlanta a 24-14 lead.
The Bucs bounced back again, though, driving the length of the field on their ensuing possession to cut the lead back to three again with a 16-yared Winton touchdown pass to Adam Humphries.
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