The bottom teams in the NFC South have combined for only one win entering today’s game. The Falcons (1-4) have taken a painful fall from their 13-3 2012 season which ended in the NFC championship game. The Buccaneers (0-5) are one of three winless teams in the NFL and already have made a quarterback change, placing hopes for a turnaround on rookie Mike Glennon.
Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan says Glennon has the same poise as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Ryan’s 2008 rookie season. That’s high praise from a Falcons coach.
“I think he’s good,” Nolan said of Glennon. “He does look like a young Matt Ryan to me. He stands in the pocket like Matt. He delivers the ball like Matt.
“I think they’ve got a keeper.”
Tampa Bay turned to Glennon, the third-round pick from North Carolina State, after releasing Josh Freeman on Oct. 3. The Buccaneers immediately gave Glennon a heavy load. Glennon’s 86 pass attempts are the second most in in a quarterback’s first two games in NFL history. The Raiders’ Todd Marinovich threw 99 passes in his first two games in 1991-92.
Marinovich lasted only two years in the league. The Buccaneers are counting on Glennon to have a much longer stay.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Glennon has “ability to move and an accuracy, and there’s an upside as far as the physical tools, the attributes you want in a quarterback.”
Sullivan said Glennon is “mature beyond his years.”
“He is very focused, there is a steadiness about him, he doesn’t get rattled if it goes bad,” Sullivan said. “... I think he has all the qualities of what we’re going to want in a quarterback here.”
The Falcons are trying to end the first three-game losing streak in coach Mike Smith’s six seasons. Julio Jones was the NFL’s leading receiver when his season ended with a foot injury in a 30-28 loss to the Jets on Oct. 7.
Wide receiver Roddy White (hamstring, ankle) and running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) were ruled out Friday. White’s streak of playing in 133 consecutive regular-season games will end as he will miss a game for the first time in nine seasons.
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said the Falcons are still dangerous.
“They are a very talented football team, very well-coached,” Schiano said, adding Ryan “is a special player” and tight end Tony Gonzalez “is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he’s still making plays all over the place.”
Here are five things to watch as the Falcons try to avoid joining the Buccaneers in last place in the division:
GET GONZALEZ THE BALL: The loss of Jones and possibly White likely places more defensive attention on Gonzalez, who has 22 catches for 246 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.
Ryan said it’s nothing new for Gonzalez to make catches while surrounded by defenders. Ryan added it will be important to trust such receivers as Harry Douglas, Kevin Cone and Drew Davis when they’re in man coverages.
PROTECT GLENNON: Glennon was sacked four times in his first two games.
Running back Doug Martin ran for 142 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown, when Tampa Bay won 22-17 at Atlanta late last season.
The Buccaneers need another big game from Martin to keep pressure off Glennon. Osi Umenyiora has led Atlanta’s pass rush with four sacks.
Tampa Bay left guard Carl Nicks had surgery after being diagnosed with MRSA, a staph infection, and is out.
WIN THE GAME LATE: Each team has fallen short late in games when in position to win.
Tampa Bay was held to a second-half field goal in last week’s 31-20 loss to the Eagles. Tampa Bay has failed to score an offensive touchdown in the third or fourth quarter this season.
“It’s certainly not going to be a good season for us at all moving forward if we don’t do what we need to do in the second half, whether it’s score one touchdown or two touchdowns or three,” Sullivan said.
RED-ZONE WOES: Atlanta is tied with Dallas for the NFC lead with 23 red-zone possessions.
The bad news is the Falcons have touchdowns on only 47.8 percent of those possessions to rank 25th in the league.
The Falcons were better inside the 20 two weeks ago, but were stopped on two straight plays from the Jets 1-yard line late in the first half.
With Jackson missing his fourth straight game, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling again will share the carries for Atlanta. Snelling returned this week from a concussion.
AN ANSWER FOR BOOS: Schiano is 7-14 since leaving Rutgers to take over the Bucs, and he was booed by home fans as he left the field last week.
A game away from home might be good for Schiano and his team, especially if the Falcons’ poor start hurts attendance and takes away from the team’s home-field advantage in the usually noisy Georgia Dome.