A stoppable force encounters a movable object, as the offense-challenged Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the Georgia Dome to face the virtually defenseless Atlanta Falcons in the second installment of “Thursday Night Football” on CBS. New Bucs coach Lovie Smith is still seeking his first win in his new job, but it's far too soon for Bucs fans to panic — Smith was 5–11 in his first season in Chicago before winning back-to-back NFC North titles. Tampa Bay likely faces a similarly challenging season given its 0–2 start, but good times could be ahead.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network
Spread: Atlanta -6.5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Time for a Return on the Josh McCown Investment
Josh McCown's spectacular performance for the 2013 Bears in relief of Jay Cutler — McCown bested his higher-profile counterpart in virtually every downfield passing stat in posting a 109.0 passer rating — earned the journeyman quarterback a big payday in Tampa Bay, but the investment has yet to yield dividends for the Bucs. In two games, the Tampa offense has produced only 31 points, and while McCown is completing a high percentage of his throws (67.9 percent), he's only 24th in the NFL in yards per attempt and has thrown only two TD passes to three interceptions. He has a pair of inviting downfield targets in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, both of whom stand 6-5, so look for McCown to test the suspect Falcons pass defense with some longer throws. Through two games, the Falcons are next-to-last in the NFL against the pass, surrendering 317.5 yards per game.
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2. The Matt Ryan Roller Coaster
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan followed the best game of his career with one of the worst. Ryan was spectacular in the opener against the Saints, completing 31-of-43 for 448 yards and three touchdowns, but away from the confines of the Georgia Dome, he suffered an untimely reversal against the Bengals, completing 24-of-44 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions. His lone TD came in the fourth quarter with the Falcons trailing 24–3 — garbage time, in other words. This follows a career-long home/road pattern for Ryan, who has a 97.7 career rating and 29 interceptions at home, compared to an 84.7 rating and 51 picks on the road. Fortunately for Ryan and the Falcons, he's back in the Dome and should have opportunities to get his numbers back on the right side of the curve.
3. Next Man Up
Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life in the NFL, but the Bucs have been simply devastated by the injury bug. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Mason Foster were hurt in the loss to the Rams, joining running back Doug Martin, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defensive ends Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn and cornerback Michael Jenkins on a crowded, cluttered shelf. In all, five defensive starters were missing for the stretch run of the Rams loss. Running back Bobby Rainey took advantage of his opportunity in relief of Martin, rushing for 144 yards on 22 carries and catching three passes for 30 yards. Now, it's up to other subs to step into the void. "There's no excuse. Whoever's out there we believe in wholeheartedly," said cornerback Alterraun Verner. "Obviously, Gerald going down was a big blow, and some of the other guys from previous weeks. I mean, that's the game. Everybody knows that this game is going to have injuries and people going down. People have to step up."
There's not a lot of pressure on the Bucs, who aren't burdened by expectations under a new regime that is still finding its footing amid an 0–2 start that already has fans thinking about the 2015 draft. The Falcons, on the other hand, have a sense of urgency. The Mike Smith/Matt Ryan duo can't afford another 4–12 debacle, putting a home game against a struggling opponent into the must-win category. Look for the Falcons to hold serve against the injury-depleted visitors.