Gerald McCoy set tone for Buccaneers

TAMPA, Fla. – The best football player on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday touched the ball precisely once.

That came with 13:28 remaining in the third quarter when Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy swatted down a Matt Ryan pass intended for Tony Gonzalez. But that play wasn’t even the best thing McCoy did in a 41-28 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.

His three first-half sacks were more impressive.

“That was critical,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “It set the tone. You could see, when you get a quarterback early like that, his feet get a little bit nervous.’’

McCoy gave Ryan and the Falcons plenty of reasons to be nervous right from the start of the game. On Atlanta’s first offensive series, McCoy recorded sacks on back-to-back plays. He added another early in the second quarter.

McCoy made the Pro Bowl last season. But, recently, he seems to be playing at an even higher level.

“I’m not doing anything different,’’ said McCoy, who had three sacks coming into the game. “I play hard. I practice and prepare every week, then I come out and give it all I’ve got. I’m not really doing anything different.’’

Well, there might be a little more to the story. Schiano generally doesn't share with the media private conversations he has with his players. But he made an exception Sunday.

"Gerald, we challenged him," Schiano said. "He played two All-Pro games the last two games. We said, 'Can you do it? Can you do it week in and week out?' He showed up and did it without a doubt."

Maybe the Bucs should keep challenging McCoy.