TAMPA — The Atlanta Falcons are reeling. They're 1-4. Falcons star receiver Julio Jones has had his struggles. He is third in the NFL in receiving yards but doesn't have a touchdown. He had just five receptions for 62 yards last Sunday as the Falcons were battered by the Steelers.
But help is on the way. Enter Bucs defensive coordinator (and former Falcons head coach) Mike Smith and his band of lambs led to slaughter, also known as the Bucs secondary.
Actually, that was unfair. Lambs led to slaughter would have gone to a double-team at halftime.
Here comes Julio Jones to drain the blood from the Bucs. Again.
There's almost no like him in Bucs annals.
"You've got to know where he is at all times and play great technique on him," Bucs second-year safety Justin Evans said.
"Julio had some big games against a lot of folks," Smith said. "I've been on both sides of it."
This side is a besieged, beleaguered and just plain bad, possibly historically bad secondary. It's filled with injuries and inexperience. It's a get-well card for Jones and the Falcons offense.
Oh, and it's on the rug up there.
Lovely, just lovely.
It's a big week for Smith. Coming off the bye, either his defense answers or he answers for it.
"We absolutely stunk, me down, in the fourth game," Smith said. "But we did some things in the first three games where you can look forward and say, 'Gosh darn, those guys, hey, they've got a chance to do some things well."
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Bucs always leave a mess on the carpet against Jones.
In his last four games against them in Atlanta, Jones has 37 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns. That includes last season, when Jones grabbed 12 balls for 253 yards and two scores.
This is what happens when it's Bucs and Julio down by the schoolyard.
Jones has made a career out of dissecting the Bucs as if they were a frog on a tray in science class. He joins the long line of Bucs tormentors though history, like Drew Brees, Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice and anybody who played for the Bears two Sundays ago.
This Sunday could be just one more reason to walk Smith into the cornfield.
Do you think Ivanka would be interested?
Back to the Bucs and Julio down by the schoolyard.
In just 12 games against Tampa Bay, Jones has Jones has 83 catches and 10 touchdowns. Only Sterling Sharpe has more TDs (12) against them. Jones is tied with Jerry Rice and Cris Carter. One out of every four of Jones' receiving TDs in his career has come against the Bucs.
"I can assure you, it felt like (the sky) was frickin' crumpling on top of us when we walked off that field in Chicago," Mike Smith said. "But that's an anomaly. That's one of one." #Buc #Buccaneers @TB_Times @NFLSTROUD https://t.co/WWxDTvec0T— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) October 10, 2018
More: Jones needs 102 yards Sunday to pass Steve Smith for most career receivng yards against the Bucs with 1,515. And Smith played 23 games against Tampa Bay.
More: Jones averages 17 yards per reception against the Bucs. The only receiver to have done better over his career is Randy Moss.
So bad and sad is the state of the worst pass defense in the NFL (358 yards per game). I almost feel sorry for the Bucs players back there. I'm not saying this team will lose their remaining 12 games, but if I was trying to make that case for it, I'd start with this mostly unproven secondary.
"We played 14 different coverages and none of them worked," Bucs head coach (and former Falcons offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter said last year, a month after Jones' 253-yard spectacular in Atlanta. Actually, the Bucs held Jones to just three catches for 53 yards, no touchdowns, when Atlanta came to Tampa last December. It felt like a Christmas present.
But Jones is still the gift that keeps on giving it to the Bucs. Since the start of the 2016 season, Jones has caught four touchdowns against Tampa Bay – and five against the NFL's other 30 teams in the NFL. In his career, Jones has nine multi-TD games. Three of them have come against the Bucs.
Them and Julio down by the schoolyard.
True, this might be a good time to remember that the Bucs are 2-2 and the Falcons are 1-4, not the other way around.
"We're going to respond fine," Bucs cornerback M.J. Stewart said. "We love the challenge. Everybody has a bad game. It's a matter of how you bounce back."
Well they're on the way.
They don't know where they're going.
Them and Julio down by the schoolyard.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly