ATLANTA — At times, Greg Schiano must feel like he is coaching a flag football team.
The Bucs entered Sunday's game against the Falcons at 8.6 accepted penalties per game, second only to the Jets' 9.2.
Despite the Falcons missing six starters to injury — including star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White — the Bucs lost 31-23 at the Georgia Dome primarily because they were flagged 11 times for 103 yards.
Three penalties came during an 18-play, fourth-quarter drive that took 9:06 and pretty much summed up the day — and how the Bucs, for the sixth time in franchise history, have started a season 0-6.
"I'm very frustrated about (the penalties). It's been a long time since a team that I've coached has had this kind of issue," Schiano said. "I put it on me.
"I've got to figure out a way to get that fixed. It's frustrating because I've said it standing at this (microphone) before."
The Bucs now average 9.0 penalties, just behind the Jets' 9.1. Their 86.0 penalty yards per game are 14.7 more than the No. 2 Texans.
How bad was Sunday's yellow hankie-fest? Trailing 31-17 in the fourth quarter, the Bucs had the ball first and goal at the Atlanta 5.
Two penalties later, it was first and goal at the 30. Four plays after that, a 13-yard touchdown pass was nullified by another penalty. The Bucs wound up completing the marathon drive by kicking a 41-yard field goal on fourth and goal from the 23.
On the drive's seven goal-to-go snaps, the Bucs were flagged for holding on left tackle Donald Penn, face mask by receiver Vincent Jackson and illegal use hands on right guard Davin Joseph. (And that doesn't include Mike Glennon's penalty for throwing a pass past the line of scrimmage that wasn't accepted.)
Sunday marked the third time in six games the Bucs had double-digit penalties.
"It seems like we can't make a mistake and even trip into a win," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "It's sad. But at the same time you've got to stick together, and I think that's where we stand. We're 0-6 right now. There's nothing to be happy about. There's no joy in this. We've just got to find a way."
The Bucs ran 75 plays to Atlanta's season-low 44 (and held the ball for 37:49 to Atlanta's 22:11). But the Falcons made them count. They scored on three Matt Ryan touchdown passes — 19, 37 and 8 yards — and a 30-yard fumble return by safety Thomas DeCoud after Glennon was sacked on the Bucs' third offensive play.
Falcons receiver Harry Douglas, who had a 37-yard score after beating rookie Johnthan Banks on a double move, had seven catches for a career-high 149 yards. Ryan finished with a passer rating of 148.4 after going 20-of-26 for 273 yards and no interceptions.
"We have to eliminate the big plays," Revis said. "We're too talented of a secondary, and we've got to make plays. At the end of the day, we have a good front seven. But the back four is going to make this defense special, and it's on us."
All told, referee Walt Anderson's crew needed to ice its elbows. The Falcons committed nine penalties for 101 yards, and the teams combined for three penalties that were declined.
The Bucs' loss — their 11th in the past 12 games under Schiano dating to 2012 — included injuries to running back Doug Martin and safety Dashon Goldson.
Martin injured his left shoulder attempting to catch a pass near the goal line early in the third quarter and wore a sling after the game. He said X-rays showed no separation. Goldson injured his left knee in the first half, returned briefly but couldn't finish.
With the Bucs hosting the Panthers on Thursday, there's not much time for them to recover. (Their status has not been determined.)
If there is a silver lining, it was Glennon.
The rookie, making his third start, entered wanting to connect on passes down the field. Jackson was targeted 22 times and caught 10 for 138 yards, including a one-handed snatch of a 59-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Glennon finished 26-of-44 for 256 yards and was sacked three times.
"We consciously wanted to throw the ball down the field. And he did that, and we got a (pass interference) and completions," Schiano said. "One play … a sack-fumble, he'd like to have back.
"There's two one-play scoring drives, one on offense, one on defense."
And just like that, the carnival ride plunge that is the Bucs season continued Sunday with Eleven Flags over Georgia.
Been here before
The seasons the Bucs have started 0-6 with their coach and final record:
Bucs' fewest rushing yards allowed
|Sept. 9, 2012||10||Panthers||16-10 W|
|Dec. 4, 1994||10||Redskins||26-21 W|
|Dec. 26, 1999||12||Packers||29-10 W|
|Sept. 17, 2000||17||Lions||31-10 W|
|Dec. 19, 1993||17||Raiders||27-20 L|