Sunday will mark the second time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Atlanta Falcons this season.
However, the Falcons will look much different this time around after Bobby Petrino resigned as head coach in Atlanta to take the head coaching job at Arkansas on Tuesday.
It has been a rollercoaster of a season for Atlanta, but one that has been filled mostly with lows for the 3-10 Falcons.
Petrino, who left his post at Louisville to sign a five-year, $24 million contract with Atlanta during the offseason, coached just 13 games before resigning on Tuesday.
According to ESPN, Petrino signed a five-year, $2.85 million contract with Arkansas.
One day earlier, the face of the Falcons franchise, quarterback Michael Vick, was sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a dog fighting scandal.
Atlanta also lost to New Orleans on Monday Night Football, 34-14. That proved to be Petrino's final game as Falcons head coach.
The Falcons organization spent Tuesday and Wednesday reacting to news of Petrino's decision to leave Atlanta, and some Buccaneers players also shared their thoughts on the situation.
"With as much chaos as there has been in Atlanta I can't really fault anybody's decision for what they do up there," said Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "They've been in disarray ever since April or May. They need to put a coach in there now that is going to put that organization back together."
The Falcons have named defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, who has served as the team's DBs coach since 2002, as the interim head coach for Atlanta's final three regular season games.
Some of Atlanta's players feel betrayed by Petrino's decision to leave the Falcons. Falcons running back Warrick Dunn sounded off on Petrino's decision to leave Atlanta for Arkansas on Wednesday.
"Classless. Just classless," Dunn said of Petrino cheering with the Arkansas cheerleaders at his introductory press conference less than 24 hours after Atlanta's 34-14 loss to New Orleans. "Arkansas should be worried. Any family or kid he recruits should be worried. Do you really believe what a guy says when he did the same thing to Louisville to come to Atlanta? Now he did the same thing to Atlanta to go to Arkansas. I think his history and reputation speaks for itself."
When asked how he would feel if his head coach left his team with three games remaining in the season, Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway didn't hesitate to answer.
"I would kill him," Galloway said smiling.
Although he is not a member of the Falcons, Hovan can relate to Atlanta's unique coaching situation.
In 2001, Vikings head coach Denny Green resigned after 10 seasons with Minnesota. Mike Tice was named the interim head coach for the Vikings' final game of that season.
Hovan, who played for Minnesota from 2000-04, said the Vikings players played hard for Tice in that situation, and he expects nothing less from the Falcons on Sunday.
"It's a little unusual, but I went through that in Minnesota," said Hovan. "I'm sure the players are going to play hard for their interim head coach because I know a lot of the guys in Atlanta and the character on that team is outstanding. The guys we're going to play are going to be fired up on Sunday."
Thomas becomes the seventh interim head coach in the 41-year history of the Falcons franchise and the 59th in-season replacement in the NFL since 1970, according to ESPN.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has a lot of respect for Thomas, who played in 181 career games, including two Super Bowls and five Pro Bowls during his 13-year career (1966-78).
Thomas, 64, served as the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator (1995-98) for three of Gruden's four years as Philly's offensive coordinator.
"He's a great coach and a great man," Gruden said of Thomas. "We have to take care of our own football team and our own situation. I know Atlanta will be ready to play – that's for sure."
Interim head coaches have not traditionally fared well, evidenced by their overall record of 119-261-1, which amounts to just a .314 winning percentage.
Of the 58 previous interim head coaches since 1970, only 10 have posted winning records, according to ESPN.
One of the coaches that actually posted a winning record as an interim head coach was Wade Phillips, who replaced Dan Reeves in Atlanta with three games remaining in the 2003 regular season. One of his wins came against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Phillips produced a 2-1 record before he was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Jim Mora Jr. He went on to work as San Diego's defensive coordinator before replacing Bill Parcells as head coach in Dallas in 2007.
Tampa Bay needs just one more win or a loss by New Orleans to win the 2007 NFC South division championship.
Despite all of the turmoil Atlanta has had to endure, the Buccaneers aren't expecting the Falcons to just roll over and hand Tampa Bay the division title.
"I know that can't be an easy situation, but they're still a talented team," said Bucs tight end Alex Smith. "That's probably more of a distraction off the field more than anything. Those guys are probably going to play just as hard as they did before.
"We're not taking anybody lightly, especially after our game against Houston. We realize we're going to get everybody's best shot. That includes the Falcons.
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