If what the Buccaneers did a week ago against the Colts was win ugly, what they did on Sunday against the 49ers was lose ugly. And they did so in historic fashion.
Using a familiar set of tools, the Bucs dug themselves another early hole. But this one quickly grew too big to escape as the 49ers handed them a 48-3 loss that matched the worst in franchise history.
The 45-point margin of defeat was the worst for the Bucs (3-2), matching a 45-0 to the Raiders in Oakland on Dec. 19, 1999. The fallout from this one could prove to be a lot worse, though.
In addition to losing the share of the NFC South lead they held with the Saints, the Bucs also lost starting defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. And just as he was starting to play like the impact player he was drafted to be.
"He was rolling,'' coach Raheem Morris said of McCoy, who led the team in quarterback pressures (11) and tackles for loss (four) when he left the game with an ankle injury late in the first quarter.
Morris didn't provide details on McCoy's status, saying the team likely wouldn't know the true nature of his injury until at least today. Even if McCoy returns quickly, though, he won't reduce the uphill climb the Bucs face.
What lies ahead, after all, is perhaps Tampa Bay's most difficult stretch of games this season. It's starts at home against New Orleans on Sunday and extends overseas to London, where the Bucs take on Chicago at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 23.
The Bucs will be off the week after that, but face a return engagement with the Saints in New Orleans on Nov. 6 and games against Houston at home on Nov. 13 and Green Bay on the road on Nov. 20.
Sunday's game against the 49ers was a chance for the Bucs to build a cushion. All they did, though, was bury themselves with a familiar array of mental and physical mistakes.
"Not starting fast, turnovers and penalties,'' running back Earnest Graham said as he checked off the errors that have threatened to derail the Bucs in previous weeks and did them in against San Francisco.
"We definitely have to look at a lot of the things we're doing here,'' Graham added, "because against teams like this, against the good teams, those things are going to make it hard for us to win week in and week out.''
Sunday's outing was certainly proof of that. Quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw six interceptions all of last season, threw his fifth and sixth of this season before halftime. The 49ers (4-1) turned both into touchdowns.
Penalties proved to be crippling, as well. After being penalized 14 times for 106 yards last week, the Bucs were penalized nine times for 96 yards, leaving them with more penalty yards than rushing yards (86).
"Flat start, flat finish, flat middle,'' Morris said in summing up the loss, which snapped a three-game winning streak. "We didn't even get off the plane this time. We came out here a little punch-drunk I guess. Didn't play as we normally do.''
They started the way they normally do, earning two penalties — one on each side of the ball — in the first six snaps of the game. That pretty much set the tone for a day in which even Morris was penalized.
That came on the second play of the Bucs' first drive of the second half, when Morris was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for comments he made during an exchange with an official.
"The official thought I was talking back to him,'' Morris said. "I was simply using the wrong adjective to tell them to watch his guys. It was a misunderstanding by me and the official.''
There was no misunderstanding Morris after the game. He made no excuses for a defense that allowed 213 yards rushing and three passing touchdowns, or a quarterback whose two picks ignited the route.
"They touched too many balls, there's no doubt about that,'' Morris said of the 49ers defense. "I'm not trying to make excuses for Josh and he won't make excuses for himself. He's got to come out and play better.''
He's not alone, of course. One of Freeman's picks came on a ball receiver Micheal Spurlock juggled before it was intercepted and receiver Mike Williams fumbled the ball away after making one of his four receptions.
The Bucs also failed to record a sack after getting eight the previous two games. The struggles they exhibited tackling resulted in 49ers running back Frank Gore gaining a total of 143 yards from scrimmage.
Perhaps the only positive to come out of the game was the attitude the players took afterward. Though this will go down as one of the Bucs' worst losses ever, most players already were moving on late Sunday.
"You just have to believe that this was an aberration, and that what happened happened and that it's not going to become a game that defines your season,'' cornerback Ronde Barber said.
"Yeah, we're fine,'' Freeman added. "Nobody's confidence is shaken or anything. Raheem gave a speech after the game, saying you can go one of two ways now. He said you can either sulk about it or you stand up and face it like a man and do what you have to do to fix it.
"Judging by the response of the team, we're choosing the latter.''