The last time the 8-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced NFC South Division rivals, the 5-6 Atlanta Falcons, was Week 2 back in September. Fast forward and it is December 5th and Week 13 of the 2021 regular season. This rematch provides some interesting, subtle similarities that shouldn’t be overlooked in such an important contest.
One of those similarities from Week 2 for the Bucs coming into Sunday is leading the division, this time by 3 games. A win by the Bucs against the second place Falcons would give the Bucs a season sweep of Atlanta and a four-game lead over both the Birds and the New Orleans Saints with 5 games remaining. Even with payback due in a couple of weeks to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium and short of a total collapse, a 9-3 record come Monday morning would all but put to bed the division title for the World Champs.
Another parallel that couldn’t be happening at a better time is the production of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will have put up big numbers in pivotal Bucs wins prior to facing Atlanta both times. Gronk lit up the Dallas Cowboys in the season opening win, catching eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, he caught seven for 123 to help push the Bucs past the scrappy Indianapolis Colts.
One not so great similarity is the Bucs once again not playing with their full aresenal of players. Cornerback Sean Murphy Bunting got hurt against Dallas and didn’t play in the first Atlanta game. The Bucs, this time around, will be missing Safety Mike Edwards, thought not due to injury.
The Bucs will also be down wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was expected to be ready for action this week. Both Edwards and Brown will be out for three games for misrepresenting their vaccination status, which isn’t any news the club wants to deal with going into such an important game.
However, the biggest of those similarities from the first match up is that the Bucs are still better than the Falcons, no matter the circumstances. It is focus and a next man up mindset combined with playoff savvy and the realization that the best is still ahead for Tampa Bay, that Tom Brady and company should still have enough to hold off a pretender hoping for an upset.