Luke McCown saw the competition at quarterback heat up on Saturday in Miami
Nine plays into the second quarter on Saturday night in Miami, wide receiver Michael Clayton lined up wide to the left on a third-and-eight from the Dolphins' 18-yard line.
Clayton ran a post to the middle of the field and got a step on the Miami defensive back as he neared the end zone. Quarterback Luke McCown, who was given ample time to throw and was able to locate the open man, sent the football flying in Clayton's direction…and, ultimately, several yards over his head.
Call that play the one that got away.
After the game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden said that McCown normally hits that throw, and indeed the fifth-year passer has made dozens of more impressive passes on the practice field over the first two weeks of training camp. Had he found Clayton on that red zone snap, then all four Buccaneer quarterbacks who played on Saturday night would have been at the helm of a scoring drive
But that's a minor point on a night that the Buccaneers won their preseason opener, 17-6, and also got strong performances from the entire quarterbacking crew. With first-teamer Jeff Garcia out due to a calf strain, McCown drew the start and set the tone with a good quarter-plus of play.
Since Garcia went down with his injury 11 days ago, the rest of the Bucs' passers have gotten additional reps, particularly McCown and Griese, the two likely candidates for the primary reserve role. Both have done well with the extra work, but McCown was eager to trade in some of that practice time for a live game.
"It's always fun to get out and play football again," he said. "I felt like we did some good things on offense. Two really good things were no penalties and no turnovers. We did some good things, we'll look at the tape and get better from it."
McCown completed nine of 15 passes for 70 yards and, as he said, didn't turn the ball over. His best pass may have been a deep cross to Clayton in the first quarter that was unfortunately dropped; Clayton appeared to be turning his head upfield in anticipation of an even bigger gain. Maybe the two just weren't meant to hook up Saturday night; that's about how much importance McCown attached to Clayton's one flub.
"I don't think Mike Clayton has dropped a ball all training camp," he said. "He's been sharp so that's not a problem. We've got a classy veteran group of receivers and I don't see [drops] being a problem."
McCown might have been more concerned about the Bucs' very first play from scrimmage, when nose tackle Jason Ferguson broke through the line and sacked him for a loss of eight yards. The Buccaneers are counting on their young and talented offensive line emerging as a force this season, so that wasn't the most auspicious beginning to the game. But, again, McCown made sure not to attach too much importance to one play.
"We settled down a bit [after that]," he said. "The 3-4 is a different kind of animal to prepare for, and in camp we don't see it ever going against our guys. Maybe on the first snap we all needed to get a little more comfortable with it. We have a few teams on the schedule this year that play the 3-4 so this will be a good tape to look at."
McCown and his teammates will get plenty of opportunities to check out the very few glitches from Saturday night when the coaching staff presents them with the broken-down game tape on Monday. Overall, it should be a pleasant meeting, because the win in Miami was a strong debut for the '08 Bucs, especially at quarterback, where an intense competition is developing.
"I think it pushes everybody to be better," said McCown of the Bucs' deep group of passers. "As a team as a whole I think we have to feel really comfortable with it. We've got to push each other to be the absolute best because that's what we're going to need on Sunday. We've got three or four guys that can wins games and all of us want to be starters so we are all pushing each other to be the starter."