TAMPA — The way Bucs rookie cornerback Carlton Davis figures it, nobody can make him look worse than Drew Brees.
The Saints quarterback has been leaving charred marks on defensive backs for 18 seasons and will one day be fitted for a gold Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket.
So it was no surprise that after being pressed into a starting role in his first NFL game due to an injury to Brent Grimes, Davis was picked on and apart in Sunday's 48-40 win over New Orleans.
Toasted, baked, fried, burned — whatever embarrassing culinary description you want to use is probably appropriate for what Brees did to Davis and the rest of the Bucs secondary by throwing for 439 yards and three touchdowns.
That included a 28-yard dime to receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., in the end zone with Davis biting on an out-and-up route.
"It was a learning lesson going against a Hall of Fame quarterback,'' Davis said. "You know, it's part of the game, though. We play in a tough division where there's a lot of good quarterbacks, so it's something that I'll be seeing often and I think it's kind of good that I got to see it early because it kind of established, you know, whoever I'm going to be playing against. It gave me a good wake up call. I think it was good for me.''
Davis was taken out of the game for a stretch. He finished with four tackles, no passes defensed and a better understanding of what the regular season is about.
"It was definitely the speed and the intensity,'' Davis said. "It was way more intense than preseason and you kind of feel when you're on the field, the urgency is way up.
"You know, with a win it's a lot better. But you know, I know I've got to play better, especially being in this division and if I want to accomplish my goals, I've got to get better and learn every day.''
Davis and fellow rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart will have to be quick studies because it appears they both may have even bigger roles Sunday against the Eagles.
Grimes was left home in Tampa last week due to a groin injury. The Bucs other starting cornerback, Vernon Hargreaves, injured his shoulder Sunday. That leaves third year cornerback Ryan Smith and either Davis or Stewart to start Sunday Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and the Eagles.
"If you're a rookie cornerback and your first NFL game is in the Superdome against a Hall of Fame quarterback, I would say that they did about how most rookie cornerbacks would do in that same situation,'' coach Dirk Koetter said of Davis and Stewart. "I thought they both got better as the game went on and I think they both learned some lessons that will carry with them as we move forward."
The first regular season game is often a shock to the system for rookie players. The pace and precision is dialed up more in the regular season and teams are bringing their best game plan to attack any weakness on defense.
Davis said he leaned on the advice of Hargreaves, who was in a similar position as a rookie two years ago. "He's a huge help for me, I'm really happy to have him on my side,'' Davis said. "Having been in that situation, he knows what to do so he gives me a whole bunch of tips.
"He told me that alignment would be a lot different, but as a rookie, you don't want to think too much about things. So the main thing was just relax and play. Just move onto the next one. You're a rookie so you're going to make mistakes. There's things you haven't seen before or people you haven't played against like Drew Brees so you've got to have a next man mentality and you'll give good effort.''
The silver lining is that Davis had all these bad experiences, made his mistakes and the Bucs still won the football game. He'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the Saints.
"You know, going up against (Brees) the first game, I kind of established like, okay, it can get bad, you got to prepare for the worst every game. I'm going to be preparing like I'm playing Drew Brees every game. It was kind of a good thing for me and a good lesson.''
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud