ST. PETERSBURG — Six days before he re-signed with the Bucs and caught the biggest pass of the season, Louis Murphy was just another armchair quarterback.
"I was at home, relaxing on the couch, watching football," he said Wednesday.
Murphy's 41-yard reception set up the winning touchdown pass in the Bucs' 27-24 victory Sunday in Pittsburgh.
By the time quarterback Mike Glennon connected with Vincent Jackson on a 5-yard strike in the end zone with seven seconds remaining, the Bucs had a season-high 302 yards passing. Five of the daring downfield throws went for 20 yards or more, as many as they had in three previous games. Murphy and rookie Mike Evans each had catches of more than 40 yards.
The air raid had the Steelers secondary backpedaling and, like Murphy, got Bucs fans off their sofas.
Glennon might seem to give the passing game more horsepower. But whatever the reason, it's the piece of the jigsaw that was missing from the offense in the first three games.
"We knew there were going to be opportunities for it with our guys," Glennon said. "Their one corner was a little taller, but their other guys were a little shorter so we knew there was going to be an opportunity to throw it up there and let them make a play on it. We wanted to make it a point of emphasis that we threw the ball down the field a little bit more to get our guys a shot to make some big plays out of it and we executed.
"We saw what Mike Evans can do with the ball in the air. We already know what Vincent can do. We've seen that in the past. Louis Murphy made some big plays as well. You can go on and on, with Austin Seferian-Jenkins … so we have a bunch of guys that help a lot when you can throw the ball down the field and get some big chunks."
That's the reason the Bucs drafted Evans in the first round and made fellow 6-foot-5 rookie Seferian-Jenkins, a tight end from Washington, the team's second-round choice. Jackson, the team's leading receiver with more than 1,000 yards the past two seasons, has good speed and similar size to outmuscle corners.
Until Sunday's game, the Bucs had not seen a ton of man coverage and quarterback Josh McCown, under duress most of the time, had been content to work underneath the zones and move the sticks.
But the game plan against the Steelers more closely resembled the attack coach Lovie Smith envisioned when he sat with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in his Chicago basement last fall.
"Coming into that game, that was a part (of the game plan)," Smith said. "As we grow, we're a young team growing together, figuring out exactly what we need to do as far as how we attack certain opponents. What you saw this past weekend is more along the lines of what we'd like to be, using our different weapons. They were all on the field at the same time. A lot of different elements went into that. But we want to stretch the field as much as possible — outside, inside, running game. We just want the defenses to have to defend the whole field."
The Saints defense is tied with the Bucs for 28th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 272.5 yards per game. New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is under fire for a unit that has produced only one turnover and no interceptions during their 1-3 start.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he was impressed with Glennon as a rookie last season and believes he has improved.
"I think he's got good arm strength, and I also think he understands the scheme and where he wants to go," Payton said. "His location down the field in last week's game was outstanding, even on one that was ruled out of bounds. He's someone that athletically can get set and get rid of the football even in pressure situations with maybe an unblocked player or defensive blitz, he seems poised and he's able to locate a target where he's able to go with it. He certainly has the arm, he has the range and we felt like in his rookie year he played very well last year when we saw the film and studied them."
Glennon and the Bucs should get more favorable matchups against the Saints, who like to blitz and challenge receivers in man coverage.
"It was nice to cut loose a little bit," said quarterbacks coach/interim offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, "and let those guys play."