Buccaneers observations: Glennon earns respect in getting season's first win
Just like everyone predicted, right?
Few gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a chance against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field after a Week 3 embarrassment against the Atlanta Falcons. Few gave the Bucs a chance Sunday because, frankly, it didn't make sense that they would win. Few gave the Bucs a chance because they found ways to lose to quarterbacks like Derek Anderson and Austin Davis and looked far from prepared when Matt Ryan throttled them for 286 yards passing and three touchdowns.
But that's the thing about the NFL. It's unpredictable. It can be strange. It can be weird. It can be inexplicable.
This was one of those days when nothing made sense. Second-year quarterback Mike Glennon made his first start of the season against the same Steelers who ripped the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, those same Panthers who beat the Bucs in Week 1. Tampa Bay looked awful in the first half Sunday, and it was somewhat of a miracle that the Bucs looked up at the scoreboard around all those Terrible Towels and found themselves down just 17-10 at halftime.
Certainly, the Bucs weren't perfect. Had they lost, we would have talked about how such a weak first-half offensive output can't be tolerated. Had they lost, we would have talked about how Glennon isn't ready for the future to be now. Had they lost, there would have be more frustration and more questions about when their first victory will come.
But then the Steelers played sloppy in the second half. They lost their edge. They allowed the Bucs to hang around.
Then Glennon was given new life with 40 seconds left at the Steelers' 46-yard line, and he found wide receiver Louis Murphy across the middle for a 41-yard catch. Then Glennon found wide receiver Vincent Jackson for a diving 5-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left. Both sequences were surreal.
Sometimes, the inexplicable makes the most sense of all.
Here are thoughts from the Bucs' Week 4 victory over the Steelers ...
1. Glennon earned respect.
Glennon started because of Josh McCown's injured right thumb, but he should have given coach Lovie Smith something to think about with this performance. There were so many things to like about Glennon in the second half, particularly on the Bucs' final drive: His poise, his accuracy and his ability to lead despite the pressure around him given the moment's meaning. He finished 21-of-42 passing for 302 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. At times, this performance wasn't pretty. But he did enough to make the afternoon memorable.
This was Glennon's best moment in the NFL. Clearly, this was the best moment of the Bucs' season. Tampa Bay turned what looked like sure defeat at halftime into a much-needed victory, one that should take away some of the sting of the Week 3 embarrassment at Atlanta. The Steelers were sloppy in so many areas -- they finished with 13 penalties for 125 yards -- but credit the Bucs for doing enough to escape Pittsburgh with a win.
2. The Bucs showed endurance on offense.
Credit Tampa Bay for pushing past an awful first half when Pittsburgh had 253 yards to the Bucs' 64. It was strange watching the Bucs struggle in the first half and wondering, "What is this unit's identity?"
So much needs to improve with this unit. Still, give the Bucs credit for a better effort in the second half. Now the trick is repeating the good and scrubbing out the bad. They finished with 350 total yards, and much of the spark came from rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, who had 65 yards receiving on four catches before leaving with a groin injury in the third quarter. The running game was mostly ineffective, so there has to be some concern about Doug Martin's slow start to the season (he had 40 yards on 14 carries Sunday). But you take a win in the NFL however it comes. No style points are necessary.
3. Gerald McCoy's presence made a difference, especially early.
It was a positive sign for the Bucs to see McCoy back on the field. He made an immediate impact in the first quarter by creating pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and even batting down a pass with his broken left hand. Part of the reason for the Bucs' improved pass rush on this day was because of McCoy's presence. The more he plays the rest of the season, the better.
It will be interesting to follow how he evolves playing with the broken hand. He consulted former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who played with the injury during the 1999 season. McCoy's final contribution on the day: two tackles and one sack. Of course, there has to be some concern that McCoy will injure the hand further. But so far, so good.
4. The Bucs' defensive line looked more like what we expected from Day One.
Before the late comeback, it seemed Tampa Bay's best development of the day would be the ample pressure supplied on Roethlisberger. We've heard it time and time again, but it's true: Lovie Smith's defense is vulnerable if there's a lack of pressure from the front. In the season's first three weeks, the Bucs' push was forgettable. Sunday was a different story.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times, and defensive end Michael Johnson had a breakout day with five tackles and two sacks. Clearly, more efforts like this are needed to give Tampa Bay a chance to stay competitive throughout the season. The Bucs need more from everyone on the defensive line. But those men did their jobs, especially in the first half.
5. Somehow, the Bucs forgot to account for tight end Heath Miller.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was Pittsburgh's most effective threat in finishing with 131 yards receiving on seven catches, but it was odd to see the Bucs have difficulty covering Miller. The 10-year veteran is no newbie to the league, so it's not like his skillset should have been a surprise to the Bucs' defense. Yet time after time, Tampa Bay had issues against him, and he earned a season-high 85 yards receiving on 10 catches in impressive fashion.
Though Miller's play didn't cost the Bucs a victory, his play should serve as a lesson for them: Cover the tight end, no matter what.