Head Coach Jon Gruden knew QB Luke McCown's mobility was a factor after watching him on the practice field
Luke McCown, a Tampa Bay Buccaneer for only four months, made his debut in front of the home crowd Saturday night.
It was just one quarter of play, against Jacksonville's defensive subs. Eventful as it was, it is still just a small bit of evidence for Buccaneer fans trying to get a read on the team's newest passer. Heck, Buccaneer coaches are still trying to determine the total value of this very interesting QB asset.
Still, enough happened Saturday night against the Jaguars, in the deciding minutes of a 20-17 loss, to make this early, three-letter assessment of McCown's game:
McCown's first snap was a fairly routine play, a 17-yard pass over the middle to tight end Nate Lawrie that was nevertheless the team's longest play of the night to that point. On the next play, McCown faked a handoff and started to spin right, only to find a Jacksonville defensive lineman already in his face. He immediately jumped back to his left, but rather than continuing to scramble in that direction as most quarterbacks would, McCown turned it into a slick double-move, spinning back again to his right, completely around the pass-rusher and out into the open. That play turned into a six-yard scramble up the right sideline.
And it was fun to watch.
The drive begun by those two plays ended 85 yards later in the end zone, the final 45 coming on a short pass turned into a long run by rookie wide receiver Paris Warren. Warren deserves most of the credit for the play, given the moves he made to get to the sideline and turn the corner on Jacksonville's defense. But the pass was impressive, too. McCown scrambled right on this one, too, but he threw across his body while on the run, hitting Warren in the middle of the field with a bullet between defenders.
Was McCown having fun? We'll have to guess at that one, but he's an animated presence on the practice field and he was certainly determined to make the most of his playing time.
"Any chance you have to go in there and make some plays to try and give your team a chance to win, you have to go in there and look for good things to happen," he said. "I'm trying to make some good things happen."
It almost got real good. One play after Warren's touchdown made it 20-17, rookie safety Hamza Abdullah intercepted a Nate Hybl pass at the Jacksonville 36, giving the Bucs a golden opportunity to take the lead. McCown came out for his second drive but quickly found himself in a third-and-four at the Jacksonville 30. Once again, his feet moved the chains.
This time, the pocket collapsed on McCown almost immediately and he escaped quickly out of a hole on the right side. At first, it looked as if he could keep sprinting diagonally to the first down, but veteran linebacker Nate Wayne, the former Packer starter, closed quickly and made that angle questionable. Before it could devolve into a race between the two, McCown made a sudden cut, worthy of a running back, back to his left and behind Wayne. Past the linebacker, McCown then continued to the right and didn't go out of bounds until he had gained 19 yards down to the 11.
Two plays later, a not-so-fun moment. On second-and-10 from the 11, the Bucs called a quick slant to WR Chris Davis. Jacksonville came with a heavy blitz and the Bucs' adjustments proved imperfect. McCown's pass was intercepted near the goal line by S Nick Sorenson, ending the Bucs' best threat to take the lead.
"[That was] a miscommunication by myself and Chris Davis, the receiver," said McCown, though Head Coach Jon Gruden did not fault the quarterback. "I thought we had an all-out blitz, and that he was going to go in there a little quicker; he may not have seen the blitz. It's a miscommunication and we can't have that between myself and him. That's on both of us and we have to fix that this week because when we're in there late and the game is on the line, we obviously can't have plays like that."
Thanks to a three-and-out forced by the Bucs' defense, Tampa Bay got another shot, though they were backed up at their own 25 with 53 seconds to go. Trying to get into field goal range, the Bucs quickly fell into a fourth-and-five from the 30 with 30 seconds left. That led to the pass that might have ranked as McCown's best of the night. WR Derrick Lewis ran a deep out to the right sideline and McCown threw a pass that dropped right over another Buc receiver cutting in and the two defenders that followed him. The 18-yard gain kept the Bucs' hopes alive.
Three plays later, it was third-and-two at the Jacksonville 39 with five seconds to play. A field goal from that spot would have been 57 yards, and the Bucs' coaches obviously felt that was out of either of their kickers' ranges on that night. Gruden called another passing play, a risky move considering the amount of time left. McCown made it pay off by firing a quick strike to Lewis as the receiver ran out of bounds with one second to play.
That's when the Bucs sent kicker Matt Bryant out to try a 53-yarder. It was sound strategy, but Bryant's field goal came up just short of the crossbar. Bryant felt Gruden had made the right move by running one more play before kicking.
"Great call by Coach Gruden," said the second-year passer. "We had an opportunity and that's all you can ask, just to give ourselves an opportunity to at least take it into overtime. We did that, but just came up a little short this week."
The comeback was incomplete, as is the scouting report on McCown, the team's newest quarterback. It might take some time to find out exactly how much the talented Texan is going to contribute to the Bucs' fortunes, but it should be a fun to watch.