ATLANTA — The short week came at a good time for the Atlanta Falcons.
Ditto for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both teams are eager to get back on the field tonight after the way they played the last time out.
The Falcons (1-1) were mauled at Cincinnati, losing 24-10 in a game that really wasn’t that close. The Bucs (0-2) lost at home to St. Louis, failing to take advantage of an opponent down to its third-string quarterback because of injuries.
There were no complaints about having only three days to prepare for the next one.
“If anything, I like it better,” Falcons offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said. “It’s easier to get that taste out of your mouth with a win.”
The Bucs are thinking the same way.
“We have a lot of guys who are anxious to get back on the field,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “A short week can be a positive, and we want to turn it into a positive.”
After going 4-12 last season, Tampa Bay was looking to make a major jump under new coach Lovie Smith. There’s plenty of talent on both sides of the line, but a sluggish offense has stymied any progress.
It’s hard to imagine the Bucs making a big leap with 35-year-old journeyman Josh McCown as the quarterback. He’s already thrown three interceptions, including a big pick when Tampa Bay had the Rams’ defense on the ropes.
“You have to protect the football,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s good to just bring the ball down and live to see another day or live to see another down.”
Also coming off a 4-12 season, the Falcons opened with a thrilling overtime victory against New Orleans. They couldn’t keep the momentum going against the Bengals, but quickly get another chance to show that 2013 was an aberration.
“You can’t win every game,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “You’d like to, but it’s a very competitive league. Everybody’s good. If we can get this win, we’ll get right back to feeling the way we want to feel.”
Here are some things to watch for when the Falcons host Tampa Bay:
INJURY REPORT: Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin did not play against the Rams because of a knee injury, though Bobby Rainey did a stellar job filling in with 144 yards rushing. Martin was limited in practice and listed as questionable, as were two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand) and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle). Linebacker Mason Foster definitely won’t play after going out of the last game with a shoulder injury.
The Falcons are in better shape, with rookie left tackle Jake Matthews expected to play after missing the Bengals game with a sprained ankle. The only big concern is receiver Roddy White, who didn’t practice at all because of an ailing hamstring.
NO PRESSURE: The Falcons are the only team in the league that doesn’t have a sack. In fact, they’ve only had one quarterback hit — on a play which resulted in a 76-yard touchdown for the Bengals. Atlanta has also struggled against the run, ranking 26th by allowing 154.5 yards per game.
BATTERED RYAN: Matthews’ return should bolster Atlanta’s leaky offensive line, though there are still questions on the right side. Tackle Lamar Holmes performed poorly against the Bengals and could be challenged for playing time by Carimi, who stepped in for Matthews last week. Matt Ryan was sacked twice by Cincinnati, hit nine times and threw three interceptions. He had few chances to throw deep, and Atlanta’s shorter routes were heavily contested. The Falcons averaged just 4.6 yards on 44 passing attempts, not acceptable for a team with star receivers White and Julio Jones.
POOR STARTS: Tampa Bay is facing another dismal start, a trend in recent seasons. The Bucs lost their first seven games in 2009, and got off to an 0-8 start a year ago. If they lose to the Falcons, their playoff hopes will pretty much be over before the season is three weeks old. The last team to make the playoffs under the current format after an 0-3 start was Buffalo in 1998.
DEVIN VS LOVIE: Falcons return specialist Devin Hester spent his first seven years playing for Smith in Chicago. Now, they’ll be facing each other for the first time. Smith was hired by the Bucs after being out of the league last year, while Hester signed with Atlanta during the offseason. “It’s going to be weird,” Hester said. “I wish the best for him. But at the same time, I hope we win.”