The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had some bad moments over the years, but their 56-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night might be the franchise’s lowest point.
The Bucs gave up 35 points to the Falcons before gaining a single first down. They trailed 49-0 with 8:11 remaining in the third quarter after an aborted snap — Tampa Bay’s fourth turnover of the game — handed Atlanta the ball on the Bucs’ 2-yard line (Steven Jackson would punch it in for a touchdown on the following play).
If Atlanta hadn’t pulled their starters at that point, there was the real sense that they could have challenged Chicago’s NFL-record 73-0 obliteration of Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game — it was just that one-sided. As it was, the Falcons’ win was the 108th-biggest blowout in pro football history (since 1940).
But that actually sells the performance short, because the score was out of hand so quickly and the margin so lopsided for most of the game; it took a pair of late Tampa Bay touchdowns to pull the margin closer to anything approaching respectability. To better quantify how the game played out, we can use what FiveThirtyEight contributor Chase Stuart calls the “game script,” which measures the average point margin at any given second in a game. And Atlanta’s game script Thursday night — +32.9 — was a doozy. Going back to 1940, it was the sixth-most dominant performance by any pro football team (playoff games are in gray):
Naturally, that infamous Chicago-Washington rout was first, with a +34.9 game script. And most fans probably remember the Jacksonville Jaguars dismantling the Miami Dolphins in Dan Marino’s final NFL game, or Tom Brady throwing five second-quarter touchdowns in the snow against the Tennessee Titans. But as far as historic thrashings go, Thursday night’s ranks right up there.