Why bother? Switch to Josh McCown unlikely to turn Bucs’ season around

Josh McCown threw 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in three games before injuring his hand.

Jason Getz/Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. — Josh McCown is a competitor at heart, but even he has regret that his presence behind center of a 1-7 team is needed again. Mike Glennon’s awkward announcement Tuesday night that he had been benched after five starts, breaking the news on his radio show no less, is a sign of a franchise spinning its wheels without a true answer at quarterback.

No, McCown Era 2.0 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should not be necessary. In an ideal world, coach Lovie Smith’s so-called "quarterback of the future" would have made the most of a chance to secure the starting job for the rest of this season and make visions of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota at Raymond James Stadium dreams without substance.

But here was McCown behind the podium Wednesday afternoon at One Buc Place, dressed in a red Bucs T-shirt with a matching cap, once more tapped to lead Tampa Bay down a path that appears destined for a dead end.

"I don’t know if I had thought it would come to this," McCown said. "But at the same time, I prepared every week and was getting my mind ready to roll if needed. The head coach has a vision or things he feels need to get done for us to win ball games, and at the quarterback position, we have to do those things, whether it’s me or Mike."

The reality is that neither he nor Glennon are the answer, the proof as glaring as the four interceptions McCown has thrown in three starts and the six interceptions Glennon has tossed in five appearances.

Glennon’s 17-of-33 passing for 260 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions Sunday in a loss to the Cleveland Browns, a winnable game that became another letdown, was enough for Smith to decide the moment for the man the coach dubbed the "quarterback of the future" isn’t now. The new regime, barring an injury to McCown, can’t go back to Glennon this season. It would be poor form.

So it’s fair to wonder if Glennon, who has known nothing but quarterback turmoil since he was drafted in the third round before Greg Schiano’s final season, has a place in the Bucs’ future at all. Smith said nothing has changed with Glennon’s standing within the franchise, but it would be naive to think this development isn’t a step back.

"It was not what I was expecting," Glennon said of the move. "But it is part of the game."

Midseason report

The truth is, this quarterback change doesn’t make the Bucs better. Both McCown and Glennon are below average. In a league where quarterback play determines whether franchises sink or swim, the Bucs are drowning on offense like they did in Josh Freeman’s final hours.

It’s not like McCown will be changed because of his time away. It’s not like he’ll pivot from his sloppy play to lead the Bucs to eight consecutive victories. He’s not the same quarterback who threw just one interception in 224 pass attempts last year with the Chicago Bears.

McCown is different, and so are the circumstances.

The prudent choice would have been to stick with Glennon, who at age 24 has more potential to grow than McCown at age 35. What’s the point of choosing age over youth when the options are so similar, when there’s little to gain in the final eight games other than trying to save face?

"Obviously, (I’m) disappointed, not what I would like, but I am going to keep preparing the same way as I always have," Glennon said. "I was in here all day yesterday watching film. I was in here this morning with my same routine that I always do. So whatever I can do to help the team, I’m going to continue to do that."

Glennon has himself to blame for allowing Smith to turn back to his $5 million-a-year man, for not asserting himself after McCown went out with the right thumb injury, for missing targets and looking very much like a future backup.

Sean Glennon, who was unwise in tweeting his displeasure with Smith and saying his respect for the sideline veteran was "all gone," can be frustrated by the Bucs’ choice to move away from his brother all he wants. But the transition to McCown is recognition by Smith that Mike isn’t the answer, or at least isn’t as far along in his development as Tampa Bay’s leadership thought he’d be.

"I expected after the injury that Mike would take it and run with it, and we would win a lot of ball games," McCown said. "For some reason — not completely on Mike — but for some reason or another, we have not done that."

A bright spot

The dynamic for Glennon and McCown has changed. McCown’s re-entry into the huddle feels like the start of a countdown to when a new quarterback is introduced next year, to when new hope is tapped with the potential of making the Bucs matter again, to when new talent is charged with sparking an anemic offense that stands as one of the NFL’s worst.

Smith will never admit this, of course. The NFL is all about winning now and winning as often as possible. A 1-15 record would be an embarrassing way to enter the offseason, even if it meant earning a prime slot to draft Winston or Mariota, if either are there to be taken.

Still, the Bucs could be faced with that reality because of their shortcomings of the moment. Little about this season has played out as envisioned when Smith declared in the offseason that he wanted to make Tampa Bay relevant again. No one expected 1-7. No one expected McCown to be this bad. No one expected Glennon to show this little progress after given his chance to start.

"Josh was the starter before he got hurt, he’s healthy and he’s back in," Smith said. "Don’t look much further than that into it."

Maybe one day, the Bucs will solve their quarterback problem, and these memories will become a reason to laugh when a legitimate franchise face leads them to the top of the NFC South. Maybe.

For now, there’s just another re-shuffling of the deck behind center, the third in two years, as the Bucs continue to lose and drift further from where they want to be.

"The reason why I made this decision, I think this gives us the best chance to win right now," Smith said. "It’s not about the future or really about the past. Right now, this gives us the best opportunity to win."

Right now, that’s hard to believe.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.