The Buccaneers didn’t just lose Sunday afternoon’s 2015 opener against Tennessee – they were embarrassed.
A fourth-quarter score kept Tampa Bay from setting a new record for Week 1 futility, but the 42-14 beat down was 60 minutes of pure hell for the Buccaneers. It took less than four minutes of game time for Tennessee to build a 14-0 lead and it only got worse from there.
If Jamies Winston vs. Marcus Mariota was a prize fight, it would have been called in the first round.
How bad was it? Mariota, this year’s second-overall draft pick right behind Winston, didn’t even play in the final quarter. He didn’t have to. The Titans were already leading 42-7 after he carved up the Bucs defense for 209 yards and four touchdowns on 13 of 16 passing.
Juxtapose that with Winston’s lackluster 210-yard, 16-of-33 passing effort that included his first regular-season NFL throw getting intercepted and taken to the house by Coty Sensabaugh, and many Bucs fans likely left Raymond James Stadium without the optimism that surrounded this team all preseason.
Winston was asked after the game how he would respond to fans reacting to this game by saying the organization took the wrong quarterback.
“When somebody plays as great as he did, of course you’re going to say that,” he said. “It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. That’s one thing we do here in Tampa Bay. It’s about how we finish. Obviously improving over the years and during the season is going to be a big thing for us.
“We have a divisional game next week, so we’re definitely looking forward to that. That’s what really matters to get to the playoffs and give us an opportunity to get what we want.”
Winston finished with two bad interceptions – he nearly got picked on two other occasions – and his first two pro touchdowns. Both scores went to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and he nearly added a third to receiver Vincent Jackson late in the fourth. The rookie out of Florida State took five hits, was sacked four times and fumbled twice, though he didn’t lose either.
Not helping Sunday was the absence of receiver Mike Evans. Coming of last year’s 1,000-yard introduction to the league, Evans didn’t dress because of a lingering hamstring injury.
Overall Tennessee outgained Tampa Bay 309-273, but it felt like much more than that.
Mariota and the Titans needed just 1:50 to put their first points of the season on the board, driving 89 yards in five plays. Receiver Kendall Wright helped the Oregon product cap it off with a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
That wasn’t good to see, but what happened three offensive snaps later was miserable. After running back Doug Martin took a pair of runs for seven total yards, Sensabaugh jumped in front of rookie receiver Adam Humphries to intercept Winston’s first throw and return it 26 yards.
Mariota and running back Bishop Sankey (86 offensive yards and two TDs) led the Titans to touchdowns on five of their first six drives spanning into the second half.
The first of two Winston-to-Seferian-Jenkins touchdown hookups came on the Bucs’ third possession. The rookie signal caller escaped trouble on third-and-goal from the 5 and hit his big tight end in the left side of the end zone. The second allowed Tampa Bay to avoid breaking its worst-opening-loss-ever record with less than 10 minutes to play. Winston hit Seferian-Jenkins (five catches for 110 yards) with a short pass and the second-year pro did the rest for a 41-yard touchdown.
The 28-point loss was the second-worst opening game defeat in team history, trailing only 1996’s 34-3 home dud against Green Bay. The Bucs lost 27-0 at home to Baltimore in 2006. All-time, Tampa Bay fell to 14-26 in season debuts.
Tampa Bay enters this season with the hopes that Martin will return to form and help carry the offensive load, but that failed to materialize Sunday. Falling behind by so much so fast didn’t help and the Bucs finished with 92 yards on 26 attempts. Martin went for 41 yards on eight carries in the first quarter but got just three more touches for 11 more yards.
Tampa Bay travels to NFC South rival New Orleans (0-1) next Sunday for a 1 p.m. game.
WR Vincent Jackson, LT Donovan Smith, LG Logan Mankins, C Evan Smith, RG Ali Marpet, RT Gosder Cherilus, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Louis Murphy, QB Jameis Winston, TE Luke Stocker, RB Doug Martin
LDE George Johnson, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Clinton McDonald, RDE Jacquies Smith, SLB Danny Lansanah, MLB Kwon Alexander, WLB Lavonte David, CB Alterraun Verner, CB Johnthan Banks, SS Major Wright, FS Bradley McDougald
QB Ryan Griffin, WR Mike Evans, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Mike James, G/C Eric Kush, DE Kourtnei Brown, DE T.J. Fatinikun
DID NOT PLAY
QB Mike Glennon, G Jeremiah Warren
The temperature at the time of kickoff was 84 degrees and humidity was listed at 66 percent.