This was not the kind of history Lovie Smith wanted for his 2015 Buccaneers team. When top overall pick Jameis Winston threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass, he became the first quarterback since Brett Favre to do so, and Winston showed that he's got a long way to go before he's going to be mentioned in the same breath as Favre in any other capacity. Meanwhile, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, the second overall pick, shredded Smith's defense for four touchdowns in the first half and a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating—more first-game history, and all bad for Smith's team.
Smith, who put together an 81-63 record as the Bears' head coach from 2004 through 2012, was hired by Tampa Bay before the 2014 season for two primary reasons: The franchise thought he'd be a bastion of stability after the uneven tenures of Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris, and Smith's well-deserved reputation as a great defensive coach would propel a unit with truly great players like tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alterraun Verner to a new level. The defense really didn't show up that much in 2014; one of the reasons the Bucs had the first overall pick with a 2-14 record.
Perhaps more disturbing than the continued defensive regression is Smith's lack of severity when discussing it. His postgame reaction to getting housed 42-14 by a Titans offense without many true playmakers, one that was led by a rookie quarterback who was supposed to have far more trouble with his NFL transition than Winston, made Smith sound like a man who had run out of answers and was content to rely on platitudes. Smith is notoriously flat-lined emotionally after the most vivid moments, but this was a good time to make some kind of definitive statement. Neither Smith nor his team were able to do so—on the field, or after the game.
“Just total disappointment,” the coach said. “We've had good workouts. You think you're ready, but you need to get to this first game and see exactly where you are. We're not there yet, and when you have a effort like this, it's not like there's one thing you can point your finger at. All of us—we all had a part in this.”
Very true, but the fact that Smith kept pointing to the idea that "it's just one game" was worrisome. Perhaps he was trying to make the fans feel better, or mitigate the damage to his team, but the damage is real, and it doesn't seem like there are many answers to be found right now.
“There's no doubt that affects you,” Smith said about his team's early 14-0 deficit. “We had pretty good play to start off, had a little bit of momentum early on, but we let them have big plays. Shouldn't give up a 52-yard pass right away, and if you do get in a hole like that, you need to answer. We answered the wrong way.”
In a contest between the two top draft picks, Smith's team unfortunately made it more about the two worst teams of the 2014 season facing off against each other—with only one looking improved in any capacity. If that continues, the Buccaneers might be looking for a new head coach for the third time in the last half-decade.