TAMPA — It's strange because Josh McCown protected the football like a family heirloom last season.
Now he holds it like a tray of hors d'oeuvres.
Opponents have feasted off McCown's 16 turnovers — 12 interceptions and four fumbles. The only players to have more turnovers this year are Jets second-year quarterback Geno Smith and Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
"Not what you want as a quarterback," said Bucs offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. "It's something that he did not do last year. At all. He was as good as it gets in the league. A lot of (the turnovers) were in the pocket this year. A lot of them were ball-security things.
"He's beating himself up over it. He's got to take care of the football because he knows, being in the league this long, the key to victory, No. 1, is taking care of the football."
Perhaps that's why, having watched McCown throw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception for the Bears last year — the best ratio in the NFL — Bucs coach Lovie Smith chose the 35-year-old veteran to be his starter over Mike Glennon.
But even at 2-12 and eliminated from the playoffs, Smith still believes McCown gives the Bucs the best chance to beat the Packers on Sunday.
"I think Josh gives us our best opportunity," Smith said. "That's not necessarily a knock against Mike. We start 11 guys. We could say that about every player we dress.
"I got a chance to see what Mike is during that time (he played five games while McCown was out with a torn thumb ligament). His future right now, he's on our football team. The future is about that last press conference after the season."
Glennon did not take advantage of his opportunity, going 1-4 with 10 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Even so, with Smith emptying his bench and moving players around like chess pieces since falling out of the playoff race, it's telling that Glennon is still carrying a clipboard.
Glennon said he is still going by what Smith told him and reporters at the start of the season, that he is the Bucs' quarterback of the future.
"Yeah, I don't see why not," Glennon said. "That's what has been told to me. I mean, that's just been the communication throughout.
"Until they tell me otherwise, that's the approach I'll take."
Meanwhile, McCown has to do a better job of keeping both hands on the ball, especially when he feels pressure.
With the Bucs leading Carolina 10-9 to start the second half last Sunday, McCown tried to dump a screen pass to running back Doug Martin, who was covered. McCown was sacked by defensive end Charles Johnson and fumbled. Defensive tackle Kawaan Short recovered at the Bucs' 4-yard line, setting up the Panthers' only touchdown.
Later in the game, a controversial sack-fumble, in which McCown's arm was hit and the ball flung forward 19 yards, led to the decisive points in a 19-17 loss.
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Arroyo said it's hard to correct McCown's 12-year habit of carrying the ball too low when moving in the pocket. Though that habit wasn't a factor with the Bears last season, the Bucs' 31 turnovers are second in the league to the Eagles' 34.
"Obviously, you have a better chance when you keep both hands on the ball versus the one," McCown said.
"When I look at it, like the other day on the screen (in the Carolina game), at some point you have to separate your hands and throw the ball. … Doug got held up. I was going to dirt it because (the Panthers) read it out, so now I'm bringing (the hands) back together and they're on you."
Not every turnover has been McCown's fault. The offensive line has been a sieve. But with eight losses decided by one score, the Bucs' giveaways have given away games.
"I don't know anybody that can say they feel great about a 2-12 season when you're a part of it," McCown said.
Smith said if ever the Bucs needed an example to understand the importance of protecting the ball, it's what has happened this season.
"We had to see it as a football team," Smith said. "It does come down to a takeaway here or there, the turnover ratio, all the way up until this last game. It is about ball security, and it's vivid to us now for sure."