Julio Jones hauled in 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in one of the best games of his career, leading the Atlanta Falcons past Tampa Bay 34-20 Sunday for their third straight victory.
Rekindling memories of the Super Bowl, the Falcons (7-4) nearly squandered a big lead to a team playing its third game without injured quarterback Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers (4-7) rebounded from a 27-6 deficit behind backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and drove deep into Atlanta territory after forcing a fumble at the other end of the field.
But Keanu Neal battled down Fitzpatrick’s pass on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 18 with just over 7 minutes remaining, and the Falcons drove for a clinching touchdown on Tevin Coleman’s 14-yard run with just under 2 minutes to go.
Jones, who had only one touchdown catch through the first 10 games, doubled that total in the first half. He hauled in a 51-yard scoring pass from fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu and went 25 yards for a TD on a throw from Matt Ryan, finishing off the play with a spectacular dive for the pylon.
Jones now has three games in his brilliant career with at least 250 yards receiving. He had a career-high 300 yards vs. Carolina last season and 259 at Green Bay in 2014.
No other player in NFL history has more than one game with 250 yards receiving.
Coleman, filling in for again for injured Devonta Freeman, rushed for 97 yards and two TDs. He had a 3-yard scoring run in the third quarter, staking the Falcons to a seemingly comfortable lead in the first of three straight home games for the defending NFC champions.
Fitzpatrick made the Atlanta crowd a bit uncomfortable. Looking for his third victory since taking over for Winston, the backup quarterback finished 26 of 44 for 283 yards, setting up a pair of short touchdown runs by Peyton Barber.
Ryan was 26 of 35 for 317 yards, while Sanu remained perfect in his career when throwing the ball. He is 6 of 6 for 228 yards with three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay: The Bucs sustained some huge blows during the game, losing RB Doug Martin (concussion), S T.J. Ward (concussion), S Josh Robinson (hamstring) and DT Clinton McDonald (back).
Atlanta: CB Desmond Trufant went out with a concussion after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Neal when defending a catch by DeSean Jackson in the second quarter. Another DB, Brian Poole, went out with a lower back injury.
Tampa Bay: The Bucs play their third straight road game at Green Bay next Sunday.
Atlanta: The Falcons continue their homestand by hosting Minnesota.