TAMPA, Fla. — What a difference a year makes.
Steve DeBerg, the goat when he threw seven interceptions in Tampa Bay's 1986 season opener, returned to the Buccaneers' starting lineup a hero Sunday.
The 11th-year pro passed for 333 yards and a team-record 5 touchdowns as the Buccaneers routed the Atlanta Falcons, 48-10, in Ray Perkins' debut as the Tampa Bay coach.
"I was thinking about last year, and that's why I was going for seven touchdowns this game," DeBerg quipped after the Buccaneers set club records for points scored in a game and largest margin of victory.
Tampa Bay's previous high was 41 against the New York Jets in 1984. The previous biggest margin was 34 in a 37-3 win over Green Bay in 1981.
"The difference was Perkins," said DeBerg, who said that former Coach Leeman Bennett had him attack the San Francisco defense the wrong way in last year's 31-7 season-opening loss to the 49ers. "Perkins had a fantastic game plan."
Perkins was hired to replace Bennett last December.
The victory was the Buccaneers' first in a season opener since 1981.
"DeBerg had one of the best games I've ever been associated with," Perkins said. "He played very smart and on an extreme high level."
DeBerg, who beat out No. 1 draft choice Vinny Testaverde for the starting job in training camp, completed 24 of 34 passes with 1 interception.
"Anything DeBerg threw up, his receivers caught despite double- and triple-teaming," Atlanta cornerback Scott Case said. "As long as I've been playing, I've never seen a quarterback catch on fire like that. . . . All his receivers had to do was turn around and catch the ball."
The Tampa Bay offense, which ranked next-to-last among the NFL's 28 teams in 1986, was virtually unstoppable in the first half, when DeBerg directed scoring drives of 91, 76 and 80 yards before Rick Woods returned an interception 42 yards to set up a fourth Tampa Bay touchdown.
DeBerg threw first-quarter touchdown passes of 11 yards to Phil Freeman and 6 yards to Gerald Carter. He added scoring strikes of 11 yards to Calvin Magee and 3 yards to Carter in the second period to help the Buccaneers take a 27-3 halftime lead before a crowd of 51,250 at Tampa Stadium.
Cliff Austin, obtained from Atlanta in a trade last week, scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter. The Buccaneers then added 14 fourth-quarter points on DeBerg's two-yard pass to Mark Carrier and Steve Bartalo's three-yard run with 3:32 remaining.
Marion Campbell, beginning his second stint as Falcon coach, removed starting quarterback David Archer late in the third period. Archer completed only 8 of 23 passes for 94 yards and threw 2 interceptions.