TAMPA, Fla. — The final steps of Mike Glennon’s time on the field after his first NFL start were completed under boos, the frustration clear from the few who remained in the stands above.
He was thrust under center, only four days after Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano made a franchise-altering choice to bench Josh Freeman, and what began as a promising afternoon at Raymond James Stadium for the rookie ended in a smoldering wreck that resulted in the Bucs’ fourth consecutive loss.
This was a bad way to end Week 4 for Glennon, for his coach, for anyone who hoped Tampa Bay’s circus would quiet before the bye. The season already seems lost. But after another hollow game day here, intrigue remains with how bad the Bucs-Freeman divorce will be and if Glennon will be the man to divert attention from the sideshow.
For most of Sunday, before the Bucs’ 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Glennon appeared poised to do precisely that. He was the game manager the Bucs expected him to be — neither overly impressive nor disappointing.
He threw for 115 yards with one touchdown in the first half, leading Tampa Bay to 10 consecutive points, which seemed more than enough against an Arizona offense that struggled with Carson Palmer’s inaccuracy.
But Glennon’s late-game collapse — he threw two interceptions in the last four minutes and was sacked on third down at the Bucs’ 1-yard line before the Cardinals’ game-clinching drive — made a miserable week for his franchise even more so.
There’s going to be more tension, the latest defeat another gallon of gasoline to dump on a growing fire.
“It’s just an unfortunate way to end the game,” said Glennon, who finished 24-of-43 passing for 193 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions. “The defense played great the whole game, [and] the offense looked good in the first half and then, at the end, just can’t make that throw. A foot in front would’ve been the difference. Definitely a learning experience, but also a tough one to swallow.”
This game appeared like a favorable stage for the Bucs’ switch to occur. The Cardinals gave up 79 points in matchups against the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints in the season’s opening weeks. At 1-2, the NFC West foe was vulnerable, something Schiano likely considered before making the move to promote the third-round pick from NC State when he did.
Instead, his plan stood shattered at the end, like so many other visions after the Bucs began this fall with high hopes following their signings of safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Instead, Schiano was forced to analyze another late-game disappointment, another missed chance, another outcome that shows his team has flaws that extend beyond its quarterback drama.
“It’s a very tough game, tough loss, for our guys,” the coach said. “We did a lot of things very well — just did too many things wrong, too many mistakes to win.”
Schiano went on to say Glennon “did a good job of commanding control of the game, the tempo, everything.” That’s a fair assessment, and for the most part, Glennon performed better than expected.
Still, cornerback Patrick Peterson, who snagged both of the rookie’s interceptions, provided perspective with this damning comment: “He’s a young quarterback, so he’s going to telegraph his throws.”
Afterward, Glennon entered his locker room and showed little emotion after those mistakes and others. He walked to his cramped stall wearing a striped dress shirt and khaki pants, his belt undone, tilting his head on occasion to drink from an aluminum Gatorade can.
He sat at his locker and sifted through his cell phone, before walking to offensive linemen Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn across the way to give them fist-bumps.
Later, Goldson, a team captain, told me Glennon made some good decisions. He expects the rookie to become better with time and experience. The veteran anticipated misjudgments, especially early, since Glennon is new to the professional game.
“Going from college to the fire like that,” Goldson said, “you’re likely to make mistakes.”
Offensive tackle Demar Dotson had a similar view. He told me Glennon had a positive week of practice, even an “unbelievable” one, and the lineman witnessed growth each day. But as professionals, Dotson knew Glennon and others had to place the Freeman saga behind them.
“You’ve got to find ways to put that stuff to the backburner, because there’s always going to be stuff going around you that wants to distract you,” Dotson said. “This was our distraction for the week. But I think guys handled it well and put it behind (them). … I don’t think the Josh Freeman distraction is what caused the loss.”
But that distraction was present, as evidenced by the group of reporters who chased the demoted quarterback from the stadium’s bowels into a nearby parking lot. Freeman, wearing a sport coat and sunglasses, said little when questioned other than “I can’t comment at this time.”
This situation will become more ugly before it clears. The soap opera is reminiscent of the Bucs deactivating disgruntled wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson in November 2003 and paying his full salary for the year to stay away. There are no happy endings to come, only incomplete ones, enough blame to go around between Freeman and the team.
Breakups happen in sports and business. Over time, new philosophies are introduced, change occurring for a variety of reasons and circumstance. The Baltimore Colts moved past Johnny Unitas, the Green Bay Packers past Brett Favre, the Indianapolis Colts past Peyton Manning. Freeman hasn’t earned the stature of those three, but again, we’re seeing one vision’s death and the introduction of another.
“I know you had the quarterback situation up in New York when I was there (Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow), but I was injured. I was out the whole year,” Revis said, when I asked if he has experienced anything like this. “So I wasn’t there amongst the team in the locker room to see how people felt. When it happened (last week), we were shocked. But it’s a decision that’s coach’s call.
“I think Mike played great today. … (Wide receiver) Vincent (Jackson) and I were talking about that coming off the field, that Mike came to play. Everybody has to improve on this team. We’re 0-4. That doesn’t sit well in your stomach.”
Not much sits well with a Bucs season that has fast become a spiral, with no simple correction in sight. Shortly after Glennon had exited the field, the boos gone, the stadium’s public-address system played Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
It seemed fitting.
If only the Bucs could dream this wretched month away.