TAMPA, Fla. — Catch the fever, Tampa Bay. The Bucs are 1-8.
The Atlanta Falcons entered as losers of five consecutive games, not winning since spanking the Bucs 56-14 in Week 3, and they found the elixir to their recent ills.
Those same Bucs, the worst team in the NFL’s worst division.
Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 17.
The return of Josh McCown as starting quarterback didn’t make enough of a difference. The defense faltered again. The running game, featuring the season debut of rookie Charles Sims, was largely ineffective.
"We realize what our record is," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "It’s a broken record, really, with me talking to you and telling you how much better we’re getting and we’re making progress — got to find a way to get a win."
Added defensive tackle Gerald McCoy: "Usually, I know what to say, but at this point, guys, I don’t know. I don’t know anymore. I know we’re going to keep going, but I don’t have an answer for you, I really don’t. I’m sorry."
Here are a few thoughts from the Bucs’ Week 10 loss to the Falcons …
1. Tampa Bay’s defensive discipline is still lacking.
The Bucs show a worrisome lack of discipline on defense. Count’em, there were three offsides penalties on the Falcons’ first drive of the game. Then Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to drive 33 yards in six plays to set up a field goal to take a 13-10 lead at halftime. Then the Falcons scored 11 consecutive points after trailing 17-16 early in the fourth quarter.
This is par for the course by the Bucs’ defense, though. It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, and these problems continue to be the most troubling part of Tampa Bay’s fall.
2. Devin Hester didn’t burn the Bucs as much Sunday.
The Bucs did a solid job of keeping Hester’s impact to a minimum. Gone were the gaping lanes that the star return man enjoyed in the Falcons’ rout at the Georgia Dome in Week 3.
Punter Michael Koenen put more loft on his attempts, which led to shorter punts. (He had a doozy of a 23-yard attempt in the second quarter.) But all in all, Tampa Bay’s strategy against Hester was mostly sound on this afternoon.
Yes, a 42-yard kickoff return by Hester late in the second quarter was damaging and led to a 43-yard field goal by Matt Bryant as time expired in the first half. Still, Hester didn’t make as large of a dent on this day.
3. McCown did more help than harm … until two late interceptions.
Give McCown this in his return as starting quarterback: For much of the afternoon, he wasn’t as reckless as he appeared through his first three starts this season. He was effective working the perimeter of the field, and he made good use of tall targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
Overall, McCown finished 27-of-43 passing for 301 yards with two touchdowns and those two interceptions late in the fourth quarter. McCown led the Bucs in rushing at halftime with 24 yards on four carries, and he closed with a team-high 39 yards rushing on five attempts.
4. Much was made about Sims’ debut, but he underwhelmed.
For good reason, there was anticipation to see what the Bucs’ third-round pick could do after missing the season’s first half because of surgery on his right ankle. But he didn’t make a large impact, finishing with 23 yards on eight carries.
It seemed like Tampa Bay’s staff made a concerted effort to give Sims the ball more in the second half. But he rewarded that trust with a fumble on the Bucs’ first drive of the third quarter.
Yet adjustments can be made. It would be wise for the Bucs to incorporate Sims into their plans in the passing game. How about using him in the flat as a receiving option more often? He closed with just two catches for 17 yards. Tampa Bay’s staff is eager about Sims’ potential, but it’s on the coaches to make the most of his skill.
5. Hey, this was an improvement over 56-14.
No one will forget the Week 3 rout anytime soon. This result wasn’t as bad, but that’s as much as a reflection of the Falcons’ inefficiencies than any Bucs growth.
McCoy is right: What more can be said? Again, this was a winnable game that turned into another Tampa Bay disaster. Bad teams find ways to lose, and the Bucs did just that Sunday … again.
Good luck trying to find this team’s next win.
Up Next: The Bucs play at Washington at 1 p.m. next Sunday.