Bad as ever: 43-7
All you need to know about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' laugh-track loss to Atlanta on Sunday is it made Richard Williamson hot. Jalapeno from hell's microwave hot. His eyes were fixed. His words sharpened so they would cut. He swore somebody played a cruel joke and switched teams on him prior to the Bucs' pathetic 43-7 loss to the Falcons. He swore it wasn't the same team that had ripped apart Detroit a week ago. His message to reporters came from the heart. Or a beer commercial. Why ask why?

"For what reason they would do that one week and (not play like that) the next week, I don't know! So don't ask me that question," Williamson said. "That's what I'm trying to figure out. But when you don't play, you're going to get the hell beat outta you. Period. I'll take full responsibility for the way the team played. But I'll tell you one thing: That's not the same football team that I saw play last Sunday. Everything about it was different."

Yes, different. But also familiar. For the Bucs (2-9), who allowed Atlanta to score 33 straight points in the second quarter, it was their worst margin of defeat in eight seasons. Not since John McKay's 1983 club was squashed 55-14 have the Bucs been beaten by 36 points. By losing their 12th straight road game, the Bucs clinched their ninth consecutive losing season.

Rest assured all of Tampa Bay's handprints were on this one. So bad was the defense that Atlanta scored on three consecutive possessions without ever facing third down. Receiver Andre Rison capped each drive with a touchdown reception. So sad was the offense that quarterback Vinny Testaverde completed just 6 of 16 passes for 71 yards and was intercepted three times - two of them leading to Falcons touchdowns. Testaverde left the game and the field at the start of the fourth quarter because of a pulled groin.

So mad was fullback Robert Wilson over this display. Wilson scored the first time he touched the football. Unfortunately, he knocked the ball out of Testaverde's hands, and the loose ball squirted out of the end zone for a Falcons safety. Williamson tried to explain his unusual outburst after the game, even though the reason was obvious. "Well, I don't like getting my ass beat," he said. "It's a very competitive business. It's a hard and a tough business. You work hard, and you're supposed to play hard. That's what the game is meant to be. Don't do that and I get very upset at that. I've been here a long time. And there ain't no shortcuts to winning. I can't see anybody go out there and not play and win a football game. We stood around everywhere and watched. It was a terrible display of football."

Doing most of the browsing was the Bucs' young secondary. Rison broke free in the second quarter, catching touchdown passes of 39, 12, and 15 yards on consecutive drives. The Bucs even failed to kill the final 34 seconds on the clock in the first half. Testaverde was intercepted a second time by cornerback Deion Sanders, who returned it 31 yards to set up Rison's final touchdown. "We had tons of mistakes," Testaverde said. "From the quarterback position all the way down to the last guy on offense."

Well almost, because the last guy was backup quarterback Jeff Carlson. The free agent replaced Testaverde in the fourth quarter and completed 11 of 15 passes for 164 yards - including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence Dawsey. But by that time, Sanders and fellow cornerback Tim McKyer had been called off the field. Even Carlson's cameo was spoiled when he was sacked by Moe Gardner and Oliver Barnett scooped up the fumble and lumbered 75 yards for a touchdown.

If Carlson learned anything Sunday, it's how it feels to be Chris Chandler. For the fourth time in eight starts this season, Testaverde failed to finish the game. Once again, the injury is not considered serious. Once again, he left with the Bucs losing badly to a physical team. Testaverde said he understood Williamson's frustration.

"He was pretty upset, and I think he has every right to be after the way we played," Testaverde said. "After last week's game the way we played, nobody could've ever thought this team could play the way it did today. When you don't make the plays and the other team is making plays, the end result is the outcome of this game. With all the great expectations we had, this is very disappointing."

But Sunday's loss went beyond disappointing. It was humiliating. Laughable. Comic relief for coaches. "The tempo was different," Williamson said. "The enthusiasm was different. Intensity was totally different. It was just go through the motions. It's my responsibility for that not to happen, I understand that. But that's not the same team! And you can't exist in playing football or any other thing when you play like that!"

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1991