ATLANTA – No surprise here. Tom Brady came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and carved up the Falcons as you’d expect, throwing for 368 yards and slinging four touchdown passes to pace a 30-17 victory for the Bucs.
The other quarterback? It was another rough day for Matt Ryan, who was sacked five times as Atlanta (5-7) lost for the third time in four games.
While the Bucs (9-3) moved a step closer to clinching the crown in a division, the NFC South, where no other team has a winning record, the matchup came with the intrigue of testing depth in the wake of the three-game suspensions handed Thursday to receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards for faking records of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Brown was barely missed as Brady – who came out throwing as the Bucs opened the game with 13 consecutive passes – found rhythm with Chris Godwin, who notched 15 receptions for 143 yards. The 15 catches set a franchise record and were the most in an NFL game all season.
Also, when the Bucs advanced to striking range, Brady was quite comfortable looking for his tight ends, as Rob Gronkowski snagged 2 TDs and Cameron Brate added another. The scores to Gronkowski set a milestone as, the duo connected for the 89th and 90th time on TD passes, moving past Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates to become the second-most prolific TD tandem in NFL history, trailing only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114 TDs).
Edwards’ absence promised to be more challenging, as the Bucs have been stung by injuries in the secondary all season. In addition to Edwards, the Bucs were without safety Jordan Whitehead, who suffered a calf injury during Thursday’s practice. It helped that cornerback Carlton Davis was activated from injured reserve on Friday, but as the Bucs luck would have it, they lost another cornerback on Sunday when Jamel Dean was forced out of the game due to a concussion.
Brady, whose 51 passes marked his second-highest total of the season, actually threw for five TDs, using an alternate measure. He threw one of the TDs to the Falcons, when 309-pounds defensive tackle Marlon Davison picked off a short pass for returned it 3 yards for a touchdown shortly before halftime.
Cordarrelle Patterson tallied 96 yards from scrimmage, including 78 yards on 13 carries. It pushed the running back-receiver’s season total to 1,007 – the first time in Patterson’s nine-year NFL career that he has topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick apart Atlanta Falcons for win