The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the season with a pair of narrow home losses and now face the prospect of playing the next three on the road, beginning with Thursday night’s matchup against the NFC South-rival Atlanta Falcons. The Buccaneers are trying to avoid a repeat of last season’s disastrous campaign, when they opened with eight straight setbacks. “It’s trying to take a deep breath, see the big picture,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “We want to win right now.”
Tampa Bay’s injury-riddled defense will have to find a way to contain Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s potent offense, which rolled up 37 points in a season-opening win versus New Orleans before coming back to earth in last week’s 24-10 loss at Cincinnati. “When you turn the ball over three times, you’re not going to win,” Ryan said. “I have to be better.” The Falcons, who went 4-12 last season and wound up tied with the Buccaneers for last place in the division, have split the past six meetings against Tampa Bay.
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS, NFL Network. LINE: Falcons -6.5. O/U: 44.5
ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS (0-2): Tampa Bay has been decimated by injuries and is expected to be without two more starters on defense after Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (dislocated shoulder) were hurt last week. Starting running back Doug Martin returned to practice Tuesday after missing Sunday’s game with a knee injury, but backup Bobby Rainey rushed for 144 yards in his absence. The passing game ranks 31st in the league and has yet to click under McCown, who has three interceptions versus two TDs and is averaging 181 yards per contest. The Buccaneers will be hard-pressed to slow down Ryan and company after facing a pair of lightweight passing attacks in the first two weeks.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (1-1): Ryan tossed three scoring passes and set a franchise record with 448 yards passing in a come-from-behind win over New Orleans, but he was picked off three times and failed go get the ball in the end zone until the fourth quarter at Cincinnati. Julio Jones appears fully recovered from the foot injury that cut short his 2013 season, snatching 14 receptions for 204 yards and a TD, but fellow wideout Roddy White missed practice on Tuesday due to a hamstring injury to put his availability in doubt. While Steven Jackson has rushed for only 98 yards in the first two contests, a more pressing concern is a defense that ranks dead last in the league – allowing an average total of 472 yards.
1. Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson torched Atlanta for 20 catches for 303 yards and three TDs last season.
2. Ryan is 37-10 at home in his career, including 5-1 versus Tampa Bay.
3. Rainey rushed for a career-high 163 yards and scored three TDs in a 41-28 win over the Falcons last November.
PREDICTION: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 20