The last football game Clinton McDonald played before becoming a Tampa Bay Buccaneer was Seattle's blowout win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, and McDonald was on the right side of that decision. On Thursday night, he experienced the other side of such a game, starting for the Buccaneers in their 56-14 loss in Atlanta.
Obviously, McDonald found the former event far more enjoyable than the latter. It's possible, however, that Thursday's game will prove more formative. It certainly won't be easily forgotten.
The Seahawks' 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos last February was the culmination of a full season of hard work. In contrast, Thursday's game comes near the beginning of the Buccaneers' season, and if McDonald's new team is going to reach its goal of chasing another Lombardi Trophy – this year or in the ones to come – it will need to learn from what happened in the Georgia Dome.
"Me being a young man in my life, I [was in] a lot of fights and things like that and I accumulated scars from it," he said. "Growing up know, I look in the mirror and I see those same scars and I say, 'Without those scars I wouldn't be the man God called me to be.' You've got to take the good with the bad. You can't run from the truth, you've got to face it. You've got to stand on your two feet as a man and make the corrections you need to make and be honest with yourself. We need to start doing this job together."
McDonald described the mood in the Buccaneers' locker room as "angry" and "shocked." Those players will have an idle weekend to cool off, but it's not likely they'll have lost those feelings by Monday. McDonald thinks his team can use them to start the process of turning the season around.
"We've got to break this thing down and we've got to get it right," he said. "Oh-and-three is not acceptable. It's not acceptable for me or any other man in here, or this organization. So we've got to take it upon ourselves and say, 'Either we're going to be an 0-3 team and keep losing or we're going to turn this thing around.' We're going to put it on our shoulders, believe that we can do it and start doing it.
"We wanted out there in front of national TV and didn't put on the tape we wanted to put on, didn't execute football like we should be executing football. As an individual, I didn't execute my job. I know this is a team sport, but it takes a lot of individuals coming together, playing as a team, and I didn't do my job, first and foremost. You've got to take responsibility for actions and we've got to go out there and get it right."
McDonald, team leader Gerald McCoy (who sat out Thursday's game after sustaining a hand fracture four days earlier and Head Coach Lovie Smith all discussed the loss to Atlanta on Friday at One Buccaneer Place. More of their thoughts are below.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
“Not much has changed since we talked yesterday. Very disappointing game by us. We said we were embarrassed and we were, nothing has changed on that. Watched the video, [it was] kind of a perfect storm for them. We did everything wrong and they played well in all areas, all three phases. Special teams, for the second week in a row, really hurt us. They had a great guy returning punts. Offensively, of course the turnovers really put us in a hole and then just not being able to get any production, getting points on the board. Defensively, we finally were able to get some takeaways, but still lost the turnover battle with them. Injury-wise, we had some injuries from the game. Josh McCown hurt his thumb, he’s getting an MRI today. We’ll keep evaluating him. Beyond that, Michael Johnson was able to get a few reps, but is not quite there yet. The good part about us losing is we lost on a Thursday and we have a few more days to heal up, to get ready for Pittsburgh.”
On if the team has shown its best ability through the first three weeks of the season:
“No, we definitely think we can play a lot better than that. We haven’t had all the pieces in place at the same time - don’t want to use that as an excuse, but let’s look at the last game. Terrible, everything went against us. I can see why you would say [we underperformed] if you’re just looking at [that game], but the first two games that we played, [the first] against the division leader, defending division champ, we had an opportunity to beat them. The following week we had a chance to win. This last game of course makes things look a lot worse than they really are, but this is where we are right now. We are getting some players back next time we play, which should help.”
On making changes:
“Everything is on the table, not just one thing. As I said, we have a few more days to evaluate what we’re doing, but when that [last night’s game] happens, changes have to be made on what we’re doing. But at the same time, as I told the team, you have to draw on history a little bit too. Our history in Tampa, our  NFC Championship team - team that lost in the Championship Game, I should say - lost 45-0 to Oakland. Beat Green Bay the following week and ended up playing in the Championship Game. 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.”
On how the team comes back after losing a game in that manner:
“First, I don’t think you tear it apart and start all over. We had a bad performance. What we need to do individually - each one of those players needs to look themselves in the mirror and see what he did, play-by-play. That’s what we’re doing right now, we’re critiquing every play on what happened. Sometimes when you do that, you see that it’s not 20-million things that they did right, just a few things that we did wrong and that’s what we’re seeing. We’re not tearing everything down, anything like that. I believe in what we’re trying to do, but sometimes when you are new it takes a little longer.”
On deferring the opening kickoff:
“The thinking behind it is that we’re going to defer most of the time because you want to get the crowd out of it right away. By playing defense, the crowd isn’t in the game, so that’s one of the reasons why we do that. Believe me that had very little - if it’s as simple as that, kicking off or returning and things are all peaches and cream, we’ll do that. That’s not the case though.”
On the status of quarterback Josh McCown:
“Josh is our starter. We’re looking at one game right now. It would be simple if Josh was the only guy to play bad and it seems like that’s the only guy I’m asked about: ‘Is Josh your starter?’ You could ask that about quite a few people, starting with me: am I still the head coach based off of that effort? But a little bit more goes into it than that.”
On McCown turning the ball over three consecutive games:
“You can say that about most of the quarterbacks in the league. We wouldn’t have any quarterbacks playing if you just went on that, so I think we can slow up a little bit on that. All of those we weren’t even his, to be truthful.”
On the Cover 2 scheme causing issues:
“Cover 2, man, everything right now. A lot of tackles were missed. Just our overall play. But don’t blame Cover 2; it’s everything right now that we’re doing.”
Photos from the Bucs-Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
On long passes being completed by opponents:
When a pass is completed, normally, [it is because of] not a great pass rush and the coverage isn’t good, whether it is zone or man. That’s where we were at last night. We were in positions where we were one-on-one, couldn’t make a play with it. It’s a combination of a lot of things. When that happens, you have a game like that, and it did [happen] last night.”
On whether he takes responsibility for the team’s performance:
“How am I supposed to answer that? I’m the head football coach, so you kind of said it all right there. I take it all. I’m the head coach, so the product we have on the football field – it isn’t just ‘Meet the media, head coach take the blame day,’ but it is. Our team wasn’t ready to play. We didn’t play our best ball. We played terrible football. When I talk about our team, I’m talking about the job – I put most of the things in place. We’re not satisfied with it by any means, but we’ll have a chance to make it right.”
On what it meant for the team to be without defensive tackle Gerald McCoy:
“Gerald is a great player. He would definitely have helped the case, like all of our missing players – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Johnson, all those guys will eventually help us. That’s why we’re optimistic that it’s going to change, because we don’t have those players out for the season. They will be coming back. Reinforcements are on the way.”
On defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers’ role as both a defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle:
“I think Bowers can play both. He can of course play defensive end in run situations, but in passing situations we think he can give us some good help [inside]. You need a couple combination guys on your roster out of your seven or eight that you dress. He’s one of those. He did a few good things, but he had opportunities to make some plays and he wasn’t able to. But, again, he hasn’t played an awful lot and he’s still working himself into true shape [after] missing most of training camp.”
On defensive end William Gholston stepping in:
“Same thing [as Bowers]. Both of those guys were injured for most of camp and both can play end and of course rush inside in passing situations. Both are getting better, both still have a long ways to go, like our football team.”
On wide receiver Robert Herron seeing more playing time than wide receiver Chris Owusu:
“[Owusu] was limping a little bit during pregame warmups, and Robert of course was healthy and really ready to go, so that had a little to do with it. [Owusu] should be okay though.”
On whether he has seen a loss like this one during his 10 years as a head coach:
“Unfortunately, I have. Cincinnati [Week 7 of the 2009 season]. As I told the team, it’s a scar that you have. Most times you ask a coach about a game like that. Yeah, Cincinnati. I think they scored the first seven times they had the ball. We came back normally. Every once in a while you have a game like that – you think you’re ready to go and the other team is just hot. Eventually we are going to be on the other end of that. We’ll be doing that to someone else. I can’t wait for that day to come.”
On the schedule coming off of a Thursday game:
“First off, what you need to do is take advantage of – for us right now, we’re a beat up football team, so, as much as anything, we need to rest up. We won’t practice tomorrow or Sunday. Guys can watch the Pittsburgh game on Sunday, but we’ll get an extra day of practice in starting Monday. Monday we will follow a similar game week as we opened the football season. As much as anything, we need to get our best players on the field, and that can only happen resting up a little bit.”
On the 11 penalties in last night’s game:
“If you look at our record, we were one of the least penalized teams in the league before that. That’s not who we are. But last night the wheels kind of fell off in a lot of different areas. We weren’t as disciplined as we need to be and as we have been, but that was a one-game happening that we don’t want to see again.”
DT Gerald McCoy
On if there is a possibility he will play against Pittsburgh:
“Yes it is. Let me clarify something: I’ve seen some people trying to give me a hard time about missing the game and everybody says ‘Well [Warren] Sapp played through it.’ Let’s get our facts straight people: Sapp sat out a game too. He missed the game in Minnesota and then he came back against Green Bay away and he had a pretty good game. Let’s get our facts straight.”
On what the team needs to do to turn the season around:
“We can’t sit in this. There are some really upset fans right now, but in order to get the fans back on our side, we can’t sit and sulk in this. We’re going to watch film today, we have to get back to work – I think in 2001 the New England Patriots started 1-3 and ended up winning the Super Bowl – it happens. This is the unpredictable league, you never know what can happen, but one thing you can’t do is sit back and just sulk in it. You have to just accept it for what it is, can’t change it, the score is what it is, it’s set in history and now we have to move on.”
On if he was shocked by how the first quarter went:
“You blinked your eyes and we’re down 21-0. It’s like ‘What?’ They scored in every phase of the game, special teams, defense and offense. They were just on fire and you can’t take anything from them. They were very well prepared and they played how we should have played. That’s the way you come back after a loss, that’s how you’re supposed to play after a loss and we didn’t do that. All credit goes to Atlanta, they just did us wrong. It is what it is.”
On being a leader on this team and having to motivate everyone to prepare like he does:
“You can try that, but everybody is different, that’s me and that’s how I prepare. I have to prepare that way in order play at the level that I do. I try and bring guys with me, more and more guys will start showing up. One thing that I’ve always tried to do in my career is look at people that have been successful and try to take little things from them. I’ve had minor success in my career, in the last couple of years and hopefully guys will start to see that and say ‘Maybe we should something that he’s doing.’ I don’t know, but I’m definitely offering it to them and anybody that wants to come with me, is more than welcomed.”
DT Clinton McDonald
On how last night’s game got out of hand:
“It’s starts off with just one mistake after another, not executing your assignment, not executing our assignment and not playing like the football team that we want to be seen as [playing]. We want to be a tough football team, we want to run the ball, we want to stop the run, we want to get sacks, things like that and we’re not doing it. We owe this city more than that, we ourselves more than that and we’ve got to execute our jobs. We have to go back to practice and put it together.”
On there hasn’t been any consistent pass rush:
“If you look at all of the great fronts that there have ever been, it’s a collective effort of all four, getting to know each other as pass rushers and it’s not just one man that’s going to have a 20 sack season, normally on a good front. I say that we just have to work harder. We have to study more on our opponent, the offenses that we’re going to face, most of them hold the ball and throw the ball, we just have to execute our assignment. We can’t excuses of why we’re not getting it done; it’s just time for us to get it done.”
On the mood of the team after last night’s loss:
“I would think that it’s a sense of anger and a little bit of shock. 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. We allowed it to happen."