Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' starting offense sputters in Josh McCown debut

JACKSONVILLE

Just a little would have helped. Just a bit to get him through the first game.

Something.

Anything.

That's all fans of the Tampa Bay Bucs would have wanted. Just a preview of coming attractions. Just something to rest hope on. Just some reason to believe. That's all his coaches would have asked. That's all his teammates would have expected.

Just a brief glance.

Just a small hint.

Instead, the preseason opener started out Friday night as badly as you might have imagined for new Bucs quarterback Josh McCown, whose defense of the position, one assumes, will begin next week. To be fair, McCown has had a lot of disappointing days in the NFL, but this was his first in Tampa Bay, and no one came away assured by what they saw.

To sum it up, the word "ouch" comes to mind.

Also, uh-oh.

In four series against the Jaguars, McCown looked like a man trying to play dodgeball in an avalanche. He was sacked. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He fumbled when hit. He hit a 2-yard pass on third and 19. He had a quarterback rating of 25. And he ran for his life behind an offensive line that somehow looked worse than last year's. And, for argument's sake, McCown was less impressive than his backup, Mike Glennon, in a 16-10 loss to the Jaguars.

"We didn't play well as an offense,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "Josh is a part of that. We'd like to have (the interception) back. We were never able to get into a rhythm. We didn't play as well as we will have to play later on.''

Remember, McCown was the quarterback who was chased by new coach Smith in free agency. This was the man Smith immediately pronounced to be the starter. This was the man he compared to Rich Gannon for finding success late in his career.

Instead, it's one week in, and buckle up.

This might get bumpy.

To be fair, it wasn't all McCown's fault. The new offensive line needs a lot more chemistry — and maybe a couple more guards — before McCown no longer looks like a man trying to play the piano in a buffalo stampede. McCown might have scared you, but this line is Nightmare on Elm Street stuff. Children should not watch it. Adults, either.

But the real concern is the quarterback. Of course it is. In four series, there should have been a play, maybe two, where you could have seen a glimpse of explosiveness. There should have been a slant to a wide receiver. There should have been a near-miss downfield. There should have been efficiency you could project into games against the Panthers, or Saints, or Falcons.

That's the problem here. The expectations are so low. Few people outside of the Bucs' training facility expect McCown to be anything other than the fourth-best quarterback in the division. No one seems to think he'll be in the top three-quarters of quarterbacks. In other words, if people act as if the sky is falling today, it's because they've never seen a complete sky under McCown.

Retreads? Hey, this area is fine with retreads. Brad Johnson worked out just great as a retread. So did Jeff Garcia. But those guys had been good players in other places before they came to Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, McCown has spent most of his career as a backup. He has rarely been his team's starting quarterback at this point of the preseason. There are reasons for that.

And so the questions are pouring in like Jacksonville defensive linemen. Is McCown going to be a quarterback? Is he going to have time to be a quarterback?

It would have been nice if McCown could have shown everyone else what Smith sees in him, why Smith believes in him. Either way, this wasn't going to be a night to convince fans he can play. But he at least could have made people want to wait and see.

Instead, McCown might as well have been playing on the interstate. It was always third and long, and he never got into a rhythm, and he never looked as if he was going to take his offense anywhere. Somewhere, Greg Schiano is giggling.

On his first drive, McCown did hit a 17-yard pass on third and 9. Alas, the offensive line was holding. The next play, third and 19, was when he hit the 2-yard pass.

On the second series, McCown was sacked on third and 5. Drive over.

On his third series, McCown dropped back on third and 7 and, under pressure, lofted a pass that was too deep for Mike Evans. Winston Guy intercepted and ran it back 68 yards for the touchdown.

On his fourth series, on third and 9, McCown held the ball too long and was sacked by Tyson Alualu. The ball squirted out and was recovered by the Jaguars.

Four series. And for crying out loud.

The good news, I guess, is it has to get better. Doesn't it? The offensive line has to block somebody, and there has to be a running game, and yes, the quarterback has to be sharper.

From here, however, McCown has a lot of convincing to do. There rarely have been so many questions after one preseason game. There have never been so many doubts.

Frankly, it never seemed so far to the end zone.

Comments

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