It’s ugly. There’s no argument and there’s no way around it. And since a tough schedule suggests it’s only going to get uglier, there’s only one way to absolve the catastrophe that is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under center.
You guessed it: Human sacrifice.
It’s time for change. It’s time for the future of the franchise to start taking his lumps. It’s time to throw Josh Freeman to the wolves and find out what the kid is made of. Is he built with all the steel and grit of Ben Roethlisberger? The poise and presence of Matt Ryan? The charm and arm of Mark Sanchez?
Or is he simply a tin man. Perhaps just a scarecrow, or a husky, $36 million cowardly lion. Maybe he’s Alex Smith, Tim Couch or Ryan Leaf.
There’s only one way to find out.
After all, there’s a lot at stake. There’s a franchise to worry about. People’s jobs are at risk. There are hopes and there are dreams. There’s the sanity of hundreds of thousands of fans. And they all lie in the hands of Byron Leftwich, who seems to need written permission from Raheem Morris to hit an open receiver in the fourth quarter.
So goes the quarterback carousel. Journeyman quarterbacks are a way of life in Tampa Bay. Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Rob Johnson. Tim Rattay, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia. Luke McCown, and now Leftwich.
You know, if Bert Emanuel simply hauled in that pass in the fourth quarter of the 1999 NFC Championship game against the Rams, Shaun King would still be the quarterback today, and all this could have been avoided. Ahhh, memories.
But instead there’s Leftwich and future journeyman backup Josh Johnson ahead of Freeman, and we’ll have to make the best of it. However, Leftwich’s inability to hit open receivers and tendency to fade as the game progresses is hardly making the best of the quarterbacking talent. Leftwich makes an excellent backup. Just ask the Steelers, who counted on him several times during their Super Bowl run a year ago.
The only thing the Bucs have to lose by starting Freeman is 14 more games. If that happens, and Freeman turns out not to be the guy after all, it’s back to square one with a high draft pick in a 2010 draft peppered with quality quarterbacks. Sure, that would mean we wasted a No. 17 overall pick last year, but that’s also a time-tested tradition in Tampa Bay – just ask Dexter Jackson.
The fact remains that Leftwich is not the future, so he clearly should not be the present. He is ranked 25th in completion percentage among starters at 56 percent, and his 80.5 quarterback rating is 20th. While ranked seventh with 572 passing yards and No. 3 in completions, his 91 attempts through two games is second only to Tom Brady. When Drew Brees has as many completions as Leftwich, but 22 fewer attempts and five more touchdowns, it means Leftwich is not capitalizing on his opportunities.
Sure, the Bucs’ defense has not made it easy on the offense, often putting Leftwich in positions where he has to throw the ball and come from behind, but I cannot remember a time in franchise history when there was a quarterback who could win the game such as a Roethlisberger or Tom Brady – a stoic field general to pull his team from the grips of defeat and emerge victorious.
Instead, we get, “Excuse me, but does anyone know the way to the end zone? It’s awfully hard to find with all these defenders in the way.”
It’s time to stop playing not to lose and start playing to win, and it all starts at the quarterback position.
If Morris, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and general manager Mark Dominik want to change the culture of the franchise, they’ll have to make some bold moves, and I don’t mean moving Jermaine Philips to linebacker. I mean taking a chance on the kid from Kansas State. I mean pulling back Freeman’s skin and finding out what’s really inside. I mean throwing him into the fire and seeing how he reacts when he gets burned, because he will.
In the meantime, though, I’ll have to live with Leftwich, because it doesn’t seem like Morris is prepared to make a change. And if Leftwich turns it around and leads this team to an eight-win season, I’ll eat my words and wash them down with a nice slice of humble pie. But for now, I’ve watched two Leftwich performances, and I don’t have much of an appetite.