The woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers are turning back to Josh McCown to try to spark the NFC’s worst offense.
The last time he was on the field, the Atlanta Falcons nearly posted the biggest win in franchise history.
These NFC South rivals own the two longest current slides in the conference heading into Sunday’s rematch in Florida.
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Atlanta (2-6) has dropped five straight and Tampa Bay (1-7) four in a row. The Falcons have lost seven straight away from home while the Buccaneers are seeking to avoid starting 0-5 at home for the first time since the 1983 club began 0-6 in Tampa.
Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has opted to turn back to McCown over Mike Glennon, who started the last five games. McCown has been out since suffering an injured thumb in a 56-14 loss at Atlanta on Sept. 18.
”Josh was the starter before he got hurt. He’s healthy and he’s back in,” said Smith before later conceding the Bucs need more than they’ve been getting from their quarterbacks.
”I think it’s the same with every position. You look at the production, and what we’re getting at the time,” Smith said. ”I think we need better play at the quarterback position. You start with that. … We need a little boost. It’s like that with all positions. If the play isn’t what we think it should be, we’re going to look and see if there’s another option we can look at.”
McCown went 0-3 with a 65.8 passer rating, two touchdowns and four interceptions in his three starts. His last one was one of the biggest debacles in Tampa Bay’s history.
The Falcons led 35-0 before the Buccaneers picked up a first down, and the margin was 56-0 after three quarters. The meaningless final two scores for Tampa Bay helped it avoid the worst loss in club history. The club has lost twice by 45 points – at Oakland in 1999 and to San Francisco in 2011.
"We’re well aware of what happened the first time around and we’re just appreciative that we get an opportunity to redeem ourselves and play them again," Smith said. "This time, we need to play a lot better."
The Falcons, meanwhile, haven’t won since they nearly surpassed a 62-7 rout of New Orleans in 1973 for their most lopsided win.
They take the field for the first time since blowing a 21-point halftime lead in a 22-21 loss to Detroit in London on Oct. 26.
That counted as a home defeat, though it marked another Falcons failure outside the Georgia Dome.
”We haven’t finished games on the road like we need to,” coach Mike Smith said. ”I’d say that’s probably the thing that stands out over the span you’re talking about.”
The coach’s status along with those of numerous others within the organization have been questioned with Atlanta on the verge of its longest single-season slide since dropping seven in a row in 2003.
”You can’t worry about all the things being said outside this building,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. ”When things are not going your way and you’re not winning games, there is going to be criticism. We understand that.”
Ryan completed 21 of 24 passes for 286 yards and three scores in the first meeting with the Bucs. He enters off consecutive 228-yard passing efforts, and has been sacked 11 times in his last three games.
Julio Jones had nine receptions for a season-high 161 yards with two scores in the first meeting. Jones hasn’t found the end zone since, matching his longest drought since his first five pro games.
Atlanta has sacked opposing quarterbacks a league-low seven times – though it dropped Glennon twice and McCown once in September.
"Again, we’re 32nd in the league in sacks," Mike Smith said. "I think we have shown some improvement. It hasn’t necessarily shown up on the sack tally, but I do feel that we’ve shown some improvement."
Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux could return from a foot injury that kept him out of the Detroit game.
Bucs left tackle Anthony Collins may miss a second straight game with a foot injury after he sat out last Sunday’s 22-17 loss in Cleveland.
Running back Doug Martin was also out with an ankle injury, though it’s possible he will return. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane is eligible to return from a two-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.