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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Luke McCown may have to continue his waiting

JACKSONVILLE — He has waited. Waited through five seasons and two franchises.

Waited behind Kelly Holcomb, Chris Simms, Brian Griese, Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay. Waited behind Jeff Garcia in Cleveland and then again in Tampa Bay.

And on Saturday night, Luke McCown offered his best argument yet to go into a regular season as the starting quarterback of an NFL team. And, still, it may not have been enough.

Minutes after Tampa Bay's 24-23 victory against the Jaguars, Bucs coach Raheem Morris said he is planning to name either McCown or Byron Leftwich as his starting quarterback sometime before Thursday's preseason game against Miami.

"We have to make it now, man. This is when we decided we wanted to make the decision," Morris said. "It's only fair for those guys to make the decision this week, and let those guys move on, and move on as an organization and get ready to play."

There were no hints from Morris. No suggestions that he was leaning one way or another. And, yet, the scales seem to be leaning in Leftwich's favor. The mood in training camp suggests his hands had the tightest grip on the job.

Maybe that is justice. Maybe Leftwich has been that much better than McCown through the minicamps, the offseason workouts and the two-a-days of training camp. But if you were grading strictly on preseason games, this competition would still be going.

Because the problem is neither quarterback has done enough to win the job outright. Truth is, the offense has been a few heifers short of a stampede under both of them. The longest drive under either McCown or Leftwich has been 45 yards.

McCown has had six possessions, and the Bucs have averaged about 20 yards and scored a total of 14 points. Leftwich has had eight possessions, and the offense has averaged 22 yards with a total of 13 points.

"I think we've both stated our cases, and now it's up to them," McCown said. "It's just going to come down to who they feel is the best fit for the offense. The quarterback who best suits this team to help us win games."

Technically, McCown began the preseason as the No. 1 quarterback. The job supposedly was his to lose.

Realistically, he was probably playing from behind even before training camp began. He was in trouble the moment the Bucs decided their offense was going to be built around a control-the-clock, run-oriented philosophy.

That type of offense needs a quarterback who knows how to manage a game. A quarterback who has been around the league and won't make silly mistakes. A quarterback more like Leftwich.

McCown may have a big arm, he may be more elusive than most quarterbacks, and he may even have some attractive improvisational qualities. But the reality is no coach has had enough faith in his decisionmaking to hand over an offense to him in September.

Which is why the most impressive pass McCown threw all night may have been the one that was farthest from any receiver. On first-and-goal from the 8, McCown was scrambling backward out of the pocket when he threw the ball out of the end zone. He didn't take the sack, and he didn't try to force a pass he could not complete. In other words, he showed the type of savvy he is supposedly lacking.

Two plays later, the Bucs scored a touchdown.

"That's something I've worked extremely hard on," McCown said. "I've put a lot of mental focus on that through (organized team activities) and training camp. I need to get the ball out quicker and play with a little faster clock in my head."

If you were ignoring their resumes and basing the decision completely on their play in the first two preseason games, you might even say McCown has looked more like the veteran. After all, Leftwich is the one who ran himself into a 17-yard sack against the Titans.

And, if you consider third down to be a barometer for a sharp quarterback, McCown has performed better. He is 4-of-7 for 24 yards, one touchdown and three first downs, while Leftwich is 1-of-6 for 17 yards and one first down.

So you can analyze, scrutinize and theorize all you like, but it's still hard to come out with a winner from these two preseason games.

Which means the decision will be based on other factors. On performance on the practice field. On savvy in the meeting room. On the comfort of a veteran hand.

And if that's the case, Leftwich will probably win.

And McCown will continue to wait.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Luke McCown may have to continue his waiting 08/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 23, 2009 8:20am]

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