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  1. Bucs

Bucs defense takes big step back

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) hauls in a touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas (83) hauls in a touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 14, 2015

TAMPA — If the Bucs' offense figured to be a work in progress with a rookie quarterback, the defense expected to be strong with coach Lovie Smith playing a larger role on a roster full of players hand-picked to fit his system.

Any hopes of defensive dominance disappeared quickly in Sunday's 42-14 loss. Tennessee scored more points in the first half (35) than it had in any full game in two years. The Titans needed only 21/2 quarters to score 42 points — tied for the fifth-most the Bucs have ever allowed at home.

"It really wasn't pretty," Bucs defensive tackle Henry Melton said.

It was more like destruction.

The Bucs said quarterback Marcus Mariota didn't do anything unexpected; the No. 2 overall pick used the same sort of play-action calls and throws that won him a Heisman Trophy at Oregon. Despite the Bucs' preparation, Mariota's passes still found open receivers who kept busting tackles.

"They did kind of what we expected," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "They just out-executed us."

That out-execution started on the game's first drive. The Titans torched safety Chris Conte on the fifth play when Mariota faked a handoff and hit Kendall Wright, who sped past Conte for a 52-yard touchdown.

Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy said the Bucs' problems happened because of how quickly Mariota delivered the ball. Only three of Mariota's 16 passes were deep balls.

"He got the ball out so fast," McCoy said. "When he dropped back and actually took a chance to look at the defense, we were all over him. When you're getting the ball out extremely fast, it's hard to get after the quarterback."

Because of Mariota's quick release, the Bucs got only two sacks on a team that gave up 50 last year. They had a chance for a game-changing play early in the second quarter when McCoy charged the middle and Mariota fumbled the ball into the end zone. But instead of a safety or a Bucs touchdown, officials whistled the play dead at the 2.

"That's a momentum shift," McCoy said. "They took that with us."

McCoy said that play doesn't excuse the overall performance, and it wouldn't have been enough to change the result. But for a franchise trying to rebuild and a unit trying to lead the way, it was just another letdown in a deflating season debut.

"We expected to come out and dominate on defense," McCoy said. "It just didn't happen."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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