Buccaneers observations: Many to blame for disaster in Atlanta

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Babineaux (95) hits Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown (12) forcing an interception during the first quarter.

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No excuse. None.

The Atlanta Falcons’ 56-14 spanking of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday turned ugly fast, and there are so many to blame. But in the end, a spectacle this bad and brutal at the Georgia Dome falls on the coach.

So Lovie Smith, you wear this.

Where to begin when revisiting this tire fire?

There were the offensive miscues, the defensive blunders, the special-teams meltdowns. The matchup against an NFC South rival, the first road test of the Smith era, figured to be a tough assignment with running back Doug Martin (knee) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand) among the inactives.

But it was hard to picture something this … ridiculous. Seriously, it was difficult to believe this was an NFL game at moments in the Falcons’ surge to a 56-point lead.

Here are a few thoughts from the Bucs’ Week 3 loss to the Falcons …

1. That was a disaster.

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Really, what is there left to say? This was an embarrassment in every sense of the word. As much talk as there was of change and new beginnings under Smith, the Bucs never looked this bad last year with Greg Schiano in charge.

Offense, defense, special teams. This was a complete failure in all phases. The Bucs looked completely unprepared and Devin Hester, who was an option for Tampa Bay in free agency, took it to his old coach by ripping Smith’s new team in a big way.

It’s hard to see where the Bucs go from here. Some perspective is required. Tampa Bay was undermanned on defense without McCoy, and this was an uncommon situation in which a quick turnaround was required after the loss Sunday to the St. Louis Rams.

But this is the NFL. That performance was inexcusable. Terrible.

2. How much patience does the coaching staff have left with quarterback Josh McCown?

McCown exited with a right thumb injury in the second quarter after his hand smacked the facemask of Falcons defenders on at least two occasions. Still, he had little effect before he left.

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McCown finished 5 of 12 for 58 yards with an interception that Kemal Ishmael returned 23 yards for a touchdown. McCown has four interceptions through three games, and it’s fair to wonder if the weeks ahead with him as the Bucs’ starting quarterback are numbered.

It’s obvious that McCown isn’t the same player who had 13 touchdowns and one interception last year with the Chicago Bears. Even if he returns healthy, the Bucs’ coaching staff should consider his future in his current role.

3. Hester would have looked good in a Bucs uniform.

Remember free agency? Mostly lost in the Bucs’ breakneck movement during the period was that they let Hester get away. It almost seemed like an assumption that Hester, done with his days with the Bears, would reunite with Smith at Tampa Bay.

Throttled

Think the Bucs could have used him Thursday?

Hester torched his former coach’s team, totaling 97 return yards with one touchdown and forcing a fumble after Mark Barron scooped up a fumble of his own.

The Bucs lack a dynamic return threat, so it’s odd they passed on whatever it would have cost to bring Hester to Tampa Bay. That should be a regret after Thursday.

4. The Bucs need McCoy and Martin back.

Neither player would have made a difference in the outcome Thursday, but it would have been interesting to see if the result would have avoided trainwreck status if they were present. McCoy, in particular, was a major loss, but it’s hard to blame the Bucs for choosing a caution route over risking his long-term health if they felt he wasn’t ready.

Rainey had 41 yards rushing on 11 carries, but he placed the ball on the turf too often to be considered a threat to take Martin’s spot as the Bucs’ top back. Perhaps Martin will return in Week 4, which would be movement in the right direction for a struggling offense. He hasn’t made much of an impact this season – 9 yards on nine carries in Week 1 – but Rainey fumbled away an opportunity here.

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5. Hard questions must be considered.

Why did this happen? Why were the Bucs so out of sync? Who’s at fault? How could this occur?

Yes, it was a short week. Yes, there were key injuries. Yes, this wasn’t an ideal situation with the brief turnaround.

But this should never happen in the NFL. These are professionals. All the mistakes, all the mental gaffes, all the blunders – it was all so wild.

The Bucs don’t play again until facing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 28 at Heinz Field. It’s back to the drawing board, and everyone at One Buc Place should take a hard look at within. Tampa Bay should avoid burning the game tape from this failure. Use it as a catalyst to improve.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.