TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Desmond Ridder and the mistake-prone Atlanta Falcons gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all kinds of opportunities to hang onto first place in the NFC South before showing why they believe they’re a team headed in the right direction.
Overcoming three fumbles the young quarterback lost deep in Bucs territory, as well as numerous costly penalties on defense, the Falcons rallied Sunday for a 16-13 victory that stopped an eight-game road losing streak and lifted them atop the division.
Ridder scored on a 2-yard run for an early 7-0 lead and shrugged off his mistakes to use a 39-yard completion to Kyle Pitts to set up Younghoe Koo’s third field goal of the game, a 51-yarder as time expired to hand the Bucs (3-3) their third loss in four games.
“It’s huge. But obviously we shouldn’t even have to get to that point,” Ridder said. “We made it a lot harder on ourselves than we needed it to be. But through all that, we could still come out on top, still play as a team. No one pointed fingers or blamed anyone. It was just go out and get a win.”
Atlanta was penalized nine times for 60 yards, with six of the flags resulting in Tampa Bay first downs. Cornerback Dee Alford was called for pass interference at the Atlanta 8, giving the Bucs an opportunity to take the lead before they settled for a game-tying field goal with under a minute left.
Ridder trotted back on the field with 45 seconds remaining and promptly moved the Falcons 42 yards to give Koo a chance to win it.
“I’ll say this about Des, he sat in there and delivered some big-time throws, especially when we needed it late,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.
“At the end of the day, we found a way,” Smith added. “Koo, as he continues to do, is clutch. Our guys made big plays at big moments. It’s a resilient group.”
All three of Ridder’s fumbles were costly, including one that wiped out a 12-yard TD run that would have put Atlanta up 10 points with less than four minutes to go. The run was initially ruled a touchdown, but officials reversed the call to a touchback after a review determined Ridder fumbled before breaking the plane of the goal line.
Earlier, Ridder’s fumble on a sack stopped the Falcons from breaking a 10-10 tie just before halftime. The young quarterback lost another fumble in the third quarter, one play after Drake London’s 13-yard reception gave the Falcons a first down inside the Bucs 1.
The receiver nearly scored on the play, although he appeared to lose possession as he stretched out for the goal line. The Bucs challenged the ruling on the field that London was down by contact before losing possession of the ball.
The ball was placed inside the 1 after a lengthy review, with officials ruling London’s hand came down out of bounds while he still had control of the ball. Ridder’s fumble on the next play was recovered by Bucs rookie Yaya Diaby.
Baker Mayfield threw an interception that stopped one promising drive in the fourth quarter, and the Bucs were penalized nine times for 66 yards, In addition, the team’s struggling rushing attack produced just 73 yards on 20 attempts.
“Anytime you’re constantly hurting yourself, getting behind the chains, you don’t make the job any easier,” Mayfield said. “A lot of pre-snap penalties for us. It’s on me for not being on the same page as everybody. … We have to eliminate those simple simple mistakes.”
Mayfield finished 27 of 42 passing for 275 yards and one touchdown. The Bucs scored on Mike Evans’ 40-yard TD reception in the first quarter and field goals of 24 and 36 yards by Chase McLaughlin, the latter making it 13-13 with 45 seconds left.
The Falcons played most of the game without rookie running back Bijan Robinson, who played sparingly and had just one carry for 3 yards.
Smith said Robinson, who’s averaging 5 yards per carry and leads the Falcons in rushing with 404 yards on 81 attempts, wasn’t feeling well.
“As we got through warmups and early on, he wasn’t feeling like himself,” Smith said. “We weren’t going to overdo it.”