TAMPA, Fla. - A season that has descended from disappointment to disbelief tumbled to a new low Sunday: Embarrassment.
Appearing pedestrian at best, the Falcons were tossed around by lowly Tampa Bay on their way to a disturbing 41-28 defeat at Raymond James Stadium.
A sequence of 21 unanswered points sealed it in the second quarter. Along the way was a litany of errors committed by the Falcons, including penalties by tight end Tony Gonzalez, wide receiver Roddy White, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and left tackle Lamar Holmes.
There was a blocked punt. Tampa Bay also recovered an onsides kick and the Atlanta defense did its part some atrocious tackling, enabling fourth-string tailback Bobby Rainey of Griffin look like the next coming of Barry Sanders.
Rainey rushed 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns to help power the Bucs while wide receiver Vincent Jackson caught 10 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs amassed 410 yards.
“We obviously didn’t play good enough football to win in any phase of the game,” coach Mike Smith said. “The way that we played was unacceptable. The way that we coached is unacceptable.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan continued to struggle, throwing two interceptions, including one that Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster returned 37 yards for a touchdown. Ryan completed 19-of 36-passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 70.8.
The Falcons, now 2-8, have been outscored by 74 points over their past four games as the season has gone into free-fall. The Bucs, who had dropped their first eight games of the season, improved to 2-8 in the battle for the basement in the NFC South.
Despite the pitiful showing, Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Smith votes of confidence after the game.
“I absolutely do,” said Blank, when asked if he still had confidence in his top two men. “They’ve earned it over the last five years. This is a tough business.”
Blank pointed to injuries as one contributor to the team’s downfall after the Falcons finished last season within 10 yards reaching of the Super Bowl.
“There have been a lot of issues on top of the injuries and that is pretty obvious,” Blank said. “The guys are proven leaders and have proven by success. Their records speak for themselves. They’ll do the work that has to be done with my full support.
“We’ll get back to what we have to do. Right now, we have six more games that we have to play this year and we plan on competing hard in those games, winning, if not all, as many as we can.”
But the Falcons enter a short week and must shake off this beating before facing New Orleans on Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons are now assured of their first losing season since Smith took over in 2008. The way the team is performing, Smith will be hard-pressed to match the infamous 4-12 mark of 2007 set by head coaches Bobby Petrino and interim Emmitt Thomas.
For now, the Falcons would settle for joining some of the three-win teams in their history. The 1996 Falcons were 3-13 under June Jones. Marion Campbell’s 1989 team was 3-13 with Jim Hanifan closing out that season to end Campbell’s second tour of duty as head coach. Campbell led the 1987 squad to a 3-12 record in a strike season.
Norm Van Brocklin and Campbell led the 1974 team to a 3-11 mark.
And not to be forgotten, the franchise’s first coach, Norb Hecker, posted a 3-11 mark in the inaugural 1966 season.
Like their previous losses to Arizona, Carolina and Seattle, things got away from the Falcons quickly and they have dropped four straight. The Bucs strung together three touchdowns drives in the second quarter to open a 24-3 lead, which grew to 38-6 late in the third quarter.
“It is (unacceptable),” said Weatherspoon,. “Any time that you look up at the scoreboard and you’re down by 30 points. … I haven’t had my butt kicked like that since Sam Bradford at Oklahoma back in 2008 (while playing for Missouri). We don’t like this feeling.”
Weatherspoon, who made his return to the lineup after missing the past six games with a foot sprain, said the Falcons must do some soul-searching.
“You remember it and it either drives you or you get use to it,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m not the type to get used to it. I know we (have) the type of guys that don’t get used to it. We’re going to find out who’s on the right bus.”
The Falcons added a three garbage-time touchdowns in the last 16 minutes to make the game appear closer. Quarterback Dominique Davis came in to finish up for Ryan, but was knocked out of the game by a low hit, forcing Ryan to return.
It was that type day, one of those old Falcons days that Campbell knows very well.