The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may end up owing a heartfelt thank you to the NFL schedule maker this week.
Sunday's home game against Atlanta doesn't start until 4:15 p.m., and it has become painfully obvious to Coach Raheem Morris that Tampa Bay's defense hasn't exactly been crisp in the early afternoon.
In fact, it's been downright brutal.
The Lions and Vikings each had their way offensively with the Bucs in the opening half the past two weeks, and as much as Morris appreciates Sunday's stunning 24-20 comeback win at Minnesota, he wouldn't mind a laugher once in a while.
"We don't have to win every game like that,'' Morris said with a laugh Monday. "Let's go win some games in more convincing fashion, just for the head coach's health.''
While Tampa Bay's offense hasn't scored more than seven points in 56 consecutive opening quarters, it is the porous first-half defense that looms as a major issue with the high-powered Falcons coming to town.
"We came in and had to regroup at halftime,'' said defensive end Michael Bennett, referring to Sunday's 17-0 deficit. "We had more fire because we gave up so many yards (284) in the first half.''
With 34-year-old Donovan McNabb looking dynamic under center, the Vikings rolled up 17 first downs by halftime, posting scoring drives of 90, 72 and 75 yards.
Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson kept breaking tackles and McNabb had the Bucs off balance with bootlegs, misdirection plays and savvy play-calling.
In the second quarter alone, McNabb scrambled for 13 yards on third-and-12 and flipped a harmless looking screen pass to Toby Gerhart on third-and-16 that went for 42 yards.
"We've got to be ready to start faster,'' cornerback E.J. Biggers said. "At halftime, it was about getting back to basics … go out and play Buccaneer football. That was the big thing Raheem said to us in the locker room and everybody bought into it. He said he was going to see what we're made of, and everybody took that to heart.''
Although the Bucs held Detroit and Minnesota to a combined seven points and 221 yards after halftime, the overall defensive numbers are alarming.
Tampa Bay ranks 28th in total defense and opponents are averaging 6.2 yards per snap against a very young unit.
The 1986 Bucs own the dubious franchise record, yielding an average of 6.0 yards per defensive snap.
"I don't know what's going on with the team in the first halves,'' Morris said. "It is what it is. We've got to go out there and play the game the way we need to play it. We need to come out and execute our game plan. There's no dramatic second-half adjustments – there's go do your job and do it fast. We've got to start the game that way.''
Tampa Bay's comeback shocked the Vikings, who dropped their opener at San Diego after building a 17-7 lead through two quarters.
"I've been playing a long time,'' said Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins, a former Leto High standout. "It's been eight years now and I don't think I've ever seen a game that different from one half to the next.''
As Morris watched the Bucs rally, he struggled to keep his focus amid the distractions.
"I had a headache, I couldn't breathe and my asthma was acting up,'' he said. "I was trying to get everyone fired up and (cornerback) Aqib Talib was awesome on the sidelines. He wanted to get me more animated. He was yelling at me to yell at them, so me and Aqib got into it.''