TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 0-2 vs. backup quarterbacks, including one who is a third-stringer.
In Atlanta's Matt Ryan, they face an elite signal-caller who is off to one of his best starts. The Bucs will try to stop him with a banged-up defense.
On paper, Tampa Bay (0-2) has virtually no chance. The visiting team loses 80 percent of the time in Thursday night games, and the Bucs will be without starting linebacker Mason Foster and most likely their best defensive player, tackle Gerald McCoy.
Factor in that Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will not call plays for the third straight game as he recovers from a heart procedure, and things do not bode well.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith says his team doesn't have time to feel sorry for itself.
Staring at an 0-3 start, which based on history all but eliminates the Bucs from playoff contention, Smith tries to be upbeat. He also knows this is the NFL and anything can happen.
"Excited about playing in front of a national TV audience, which is good. We haven't played our best ball. Here's a chance for a lot of people to kind of go and just look at what they see from us," Smith said. "So we need to play well. We lost a division home game and we need to steal one."
The best chance for the Bucs to slow down Ryan is try to keep the ball away from him with a strong running game.
Ryan has been hot. He leads the NFL with 679 passing yards and has four touchdown passes. The Falcons split their first two games with a big offensive splash against New Orleans and a disappointing road loss to Cincinnati last week.
Ryan is especially good at home. He is 37-10 in the Georgia Dome, with five of those losses coming last year when the injury-depleted Falcons finished 4-12.
Smith says it's essential for his team to establish a good running game and is hopeful after the way Bobby Rainey ran for 144 yards in last Sunday's loss to the St. Louis Rams. He should get some help from Doug Martin, the original starter who bruised his knee last week.
"As a general rule, we want to be able to run the football and keep our drives going. It does (put pressure on you to run the ball) when you play a group like this, but for our football team we think it's to our advantage, too," Smith said.
The coach hoped to establish a defense that would create turnovers and score points. In two games, it hasn't come close. The Bucs have one takeaway and two pass breakups, and the defensive backs have not done a good job contesting passes.
"You know, those turnovers, they come in bunches. We got one on Sunday, so we're hoping we're getting ready to get it rolling now," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We want to get it going. We got our first one, and let's see them start coming now."
Frazer will try to mix and match his personnel to compensate for the players who likely will be out. But even before the injuries, the Bucs had to get away from their Tampa 2 defense because the front four was not getting the rush needed to make that defense effective.
"You'd like to have all hands on deck for sure, no question about it. (Atlanta) looks pretty good on offense. They struggled a little bit last week, but they definitely have the weapons to be explosive from anywhere on the field," Frazier said. "That gives some other guys some opportunity to step up and play for us. We're going to need them to play well -- on the road, in a tough environment. We have to see the best from those guys who have to step up."
When the Bucs went to a blitz last week in the fourth quarter on a third and 9 for St. Louis, which trailed 17-16 with less than two minutes left, they got burned, and it led to the game-winning field goal.
"We kept debating (on that third and nine) can we rush with four or do we have to bring pressure. We made the decision to bring pressure and were one step away from maybe making a play," Frazier said. "No matter which quarterback it is, they're NFL quarterbacks and if you give them time, it becomes seven-on-seven for them. You're conscious of what it does to our secondary. It puts them in peril's way at times."
Of course if the Bucs are to have a chance they need quarterback Josh McCown to stay away from blunders that were major contributors to the two losses. He also has not been able to take advantage of the Bucs' twin tower receivers in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans.
"You don't want to throw caution to the wind and just start throwing the ball around everywhere, but at the same time we know that they're out there and we need to take advantage of it," McCown said. "It really felt like I did a lot of good things, except the three turnovers in those games, and those have been critical. It's just eliminating those. As I evaluate myself, that's really what I focus on."