Last season in Chicago, Bucs quarterback Josh McCown had an amazing run filling in for an injured Jay Cutler. McCown’s 13-touchdown, one-interception stretch in 2013 netted him a hefty paycheck (two-year, $10 million) and a reunion with head coach Lovie Smith last March two days after free agency opened.
2014 hasn’t been nearly as kind to McCown.
In his nine starts the journeyman has thrown 12 interceptions and lost four of nine fumbles on the season. In Sunday’s 19-17 loss to the Panthers McCown lost two of three fumbles, one of which set Carolina up inside the Bucs 10-yard line and led to a Panthers go-ahead touchdown.
McCown understands he has to be better.
“Just got to find a way to hold on to the ball better,” McCown said. “We had a screen going and I stepped up and I was going to dirt it at Chuck’s feet. I probably should have ate it. That’s the risk you run when you separate your hands to try to throw the ball away. It was unfortunate and hurt us. Hurt us bad.”
The Bucs offensive line, Oniel Cousins in particular, was abused on Tampa Bay’s first drive of the second half. And much like the Bears game, the wheels came off the bus and Tampa Bay never recovered.
Later in the game McCown was once again under pressure as the Bucs failed to pick up a blitz. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass but Panthers head coach Ron Rivera challenged it, and the ruling on the field was overturned. McCown thought the first ruling by the officials was the correct one.
“I thought I threw it downfield,” McCown said. “I threw it forward an awfully long way. We had everything we wanted. We did everything protection-wise that we wanted to do. We had the matchup and Vince is screaming downfield. That’s going to be hard to watch on tape. That was going to be a big play. We probably would have scored. It would have been a big one. It would have been huge.”
“I thought my arm was going forward,” McCown continued. “I don’t understand how a ball goes that far downfield that way. He certainly didn’t push it forward. It went forward somehow.”
Smith agreed that McCown, or whoever is at quarterback, has to do a better job protecting the football.
“We’re always talking about securing the ball and you want the quarterback to, but it’s a lot more than the quarterback when he gets sacked,” Smith said. “That’s a big turning point in the game. The second half they had field position the entire time. You can’t have that. That was really the difference in the game.”