TAMPA — After watching three wobbly performances by his quarterback, Lovie Smith's patience in Josh McCown remains unshakable.
A day after the Bucs' 56-14 loss to the Falcons, the coach said McCown will start against the Steelers on Sept. 28 if healthy. McCown injured the thumb on his right (throwing) hand during the second quarter on a sack and did not return. He was scheduled to have an MRI exam Friday, and the team will have a better gauge of his status when players return to the practice facility Monday.
McCown, 35, has been erratic. He completed 5 of 12 passes for 58 yards Thursday and had an interception returned for a touchdown. It was the fourth interception over three games for McCown, who threw only one over eight for the Bears last season.
"Josh is our starter," Smith said. "We're looking at one game right now. It would be simple if Josh was the only guy who played bad. It seems like the only guy I'm asked about is Josh. You can ask that about quite a few people, starting with me. Am I still the head coach based on that effort? But a little more goes into it than that."
During the Bucs' 0-3 start, McCown has completed 43 of 68 passes (63.2 percent) for 420 yards and two touchdowns. Only eight quarterbacks, including McCown, threw interceptions in each of their two games. His interception percentage of 5.9 is lower than only the 6.5 of the Vikings' Matt Cassell.
"We wouldn't have any quarterbacks playing if you just went on that," Smith said. "And all of those (interceptions) weren't even his fault to be truthful."
Mike Glennon entered Thursday's game and went 17-of-24 for 121 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. It was after Week 3 a year ago when Glennon replaced Josh Freeman and led the Bucs to a 4-9 record, throwing 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Smith promised changes after watching the Bucs' third-worst loss in franchise history. The Bucs trailed 56-0 in the fourth quarter until Glennon connected with receiver Vincent Jackson on a 3-yard touchdown.
"You have to give them credit. They whipped our butts," Glennon said. "That's the bottom line in all three phases of the game. We have a long week to get ready for Pittsburgh and a long season ahead of us. So it'll hurt, but it'll be a learning experience.
"I'm going to prepare to play and see how (McCown is) doing with his hand. ... I think it was good to get out there to get some live reps. I feel comfortable with our offense, and we'll continue to grow as a unit."
Smith said he was embarrassed by his team's performance and took the blame for not having it prepared. Without going into specifics, he vowed changes but also chalked up the loss to a bad night in which the Bucs were without, among others, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand) and linebacker Mason Foster (separated shoulder).
What changes is Smith considering?
"Everything is on the table; not just one thing," Smith said. "We have a few more days to evaluate what we're doing, but when (Thursday night's game) happens, changes have to be made. But at the same time, as I told the team, you have to draw on history a little bit, too. Our (1999) … team lost 45-0 to Oakland. Beat Green Bay the following week and ended up playing in the (NFC) championship game.
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"As coaches, we've had games like this. So you can't put too much into it; of it having a lingering effect on your season. We just played bad this one night."
As if the lopsided loss wasn't enough, the charter flight was stranded on the tarmac at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport until 3 a.m. due to mechanical problems. They returned to One Buc Place still in disbelief.
"I would think that it's a sense of anger and a little bit of shock," defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said. "Anger because we put that football on TV. Nobody wants to go out on any given day and display yourselves like that; nobody. I think there's shock because we allowed it to happen."
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLStroud.