Bucs should take a page out of what worked last week to beat Falcons in Week 14

It’s put up or shut up time for the Bucs, and they have the blueprint to beat Atlanta on Sunday.
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With losses in six of their last seven games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered Week 13 in a must-win scenario to remain in the NFC playoff picture. Against the lowly Carolina Panthers, the Bucs did just that, squeaking out a 21-18 victory.

As a result, Tampa Bay moved to 5-7 on the season, and are now tied with New Orleans for second place in the NFC South standings — officially ahead of the Saints thanks to beating them earlier in the season. Both teams trail Atlanta for first place by one game, though, with just five games remaining for all three teams.

In short, buckle up for a bumpy ride the rest of the way.

While the Panthers are the worst team in the NFL by a multitude of factors, a win is still a win, and last week was one the Buccaneers needed badly. On Sunday, the Buccaneers relied on the big play ability of their key offensive weapons on offense and a stiffiling front seven on defense.

Everyone is looking ahead at what this weekend has in store, and rightfully so. If the Bucs want to keep the good times rolling, and salvage the season, then looking back at how they beat the Panthers is key to setting up a strategy to win in Atlanta.

Buccaneers can use win over Panthers as blueprint for beating Falcons

Baker Mayfield needs to bounce back

After enjoying a blazing hot start to the season, Baker Mayfield cooled off quick, as the veteran has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 723 passing yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions over Tampa Bay's last three games leading into last Sunday. Against the Panthers, Mayfield wasn't much better, completing less than half his passes for a mere 202 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. It marked his third straight game with a sub-100.0 QBR.

Despite this, the Buccaneers' offense still managed to find the endzone three times in the win, thanks in large part to a solid running game.

Shocking, I know.

Lean on Rachaad White and Chris Godwin

Following an outing in Indianapolis in which he recorded over 100 yards, Rachaad White went 82 yards and a one-yard touchdown against Carolina — all on the ground. Given how awful and putrid the Bucs run game has been so far this year, White’s performance was on another level.

Although no other player would have more than two carries or 20 yards on the ground for Tampa Bay, someone else made a key play on the ground that would play a major role later on. Chris Godwin took an end-around handoff from Mayfield to the left sideline and evaded both Alex Cook and Kamu Grugier-Hill to find the endzone and give Tampa Bay a 21-10 lead with 11:36 left in the fourth quarter.

Lost in the sauce that everyone cooked Todd Bowles in this week for his postgame comments about Godwin’s usage was the fact that he made an important impact. Without that score, the Bucs don’t win the game.

Run the offense through Mike Evans

To the surprise of no one, Mayfield found success throwing to superstar wide receiver Mike Evans once again. Evans hauled in seven catches for 162 receiving yards, including a 13-yard catch that pushed him over 1,000 receiving yards for the 10th time in his career. He now has the second-most such seasons, sitting behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice who ultimately ended up doing it 14 times.

“I don’t know how much more you can say. He’s been like this for 10 years now — 60 catches 10 years in a row, 1,000 yards 10 years in a row,” Bowles said after the game. “You know he’s getting the ball. Everybody’s trying to stop him and he makes plays over and over. It’s a credit to him, his work ethic and the way he approaches the game.”

Before etching his name in the history books, Evans managed to score his tenth touchdown this season. On the first play of the Buccaneers' third drive of the second half, Evans lost two Panther defenders on a deep post and ran 75 yards to score and let Tampa Bay retake the lead after Carolina scored on an eight-play, 65-yard drive.

Keep tightening the screws on defense

Defensively, Tampa Bay had one of their best performances of the season last Sunday, holding Carolina to just 282 total yards. Perhaps most impressive, especially given the struggles in this department, was the defense holding the Panthers to 3-15 on third-down conversions. That was good for a season-best, and is a sign the third down defense can get Atlanta off the field.

The Bucs front seven managed to wreck Bryce Young, rattling the former Heisman winner with pressure and finishing the game with four sacks and four hits. Due to this, Young managed to complete just 48 percent of his passes for an anemic 178 yards, zero touchdowns, and an interception to Antoine Winfield Jr that sealed the deal.

Keep in mind the Bucs only allowed 16 points to the Falcons back in Week 7, and nothing about Altanta’s offense has been particularly explosive since. Bijan Robinson has started to emerge a bit more, and it’s expected that he’ll be featured more than he was in the first meeting, but there’s nothing unbeatable about the Falcons.

Last Sunday was the sort of well-rounded performance by Tampa Bay on both sides of the ball we saw earlier in the year when things were going a lot better. If the Bucs are able to keep playing like this in their final five games of the season, starting in a pivotal Week 14 tilt with the Falcons, then the path is pretty clear for yet another NFC South division title.

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