By MIKE HENRY
I don't know what Tampa Bay quarterback Luke McCown was saying to cornerback Ronde Barber in the closing minutes of the Buccaneers' 24-23 victory Saturday at Jacksonville.
But McCown's intense scowl had to bring a smile to the face of head coach Raheem Morris, who said today he plans to postpone a decision on his No. 1 QB until after Thursday's game against Miami, if that soon.
Neither McCown nor the other contender, Byron Leftwich, will be high selections in anyone's fantasy draft. But their spirited competition is a godsend for Morris and the Bucs, whose shaky defense took another hit with the season-ending biceps injury to linebacker Angelo Crowell.
No. 1 draft pick Josh Freeman also impressed, capping an 18-play touchdown drive to begin the second half with a 28-yard touchdown run. But Freeman needs time to adjust to NFL speed and won't be thrown to the wolves, barring injuries.
No, it's between McCown and Leftwich, and there will be a heightened sense of anticipation when the Dolphins come calling.
Leftwich, who didn't play much the past two seasons but got a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, looked adequate in the first quarter against Jacksonville. But McCown showed the accuracy that used to intrigue former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, completing six of nine attempts with one thrown away to avoid a sack.
McCown displayed plenty of zip on his touchdown passes to Jerramy Stevens and seventh-round draft pick Sammie Stroughter, who also had an electrifying 75-yard kickoff return to set up the Stevens touchdown.
Now, I'm one of those guys who thinks the Bucs are looking at 6-10, 7-9 at best. They play the NFC East and travel to Buffalo in Week 2, when the Terrell Owens love affair should be in full bloom.
Especially after what I saw from the Tampa Bay secondary Saturday. Barber is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate on the verge of making selectors forget what the fuss is all about. Safety Sabby Piscitelli still seems best suited to the thrill of the chase (rival offensive coordinators will take note of the Jags' game-opening, 74-yard TD bomb from David Garrard to Troy Williamson and plan accordingly).
No longer will the Bucs be able to win consistently by scoring 17 points, like they did in their glory days. It's going to take a QB who can move the chains, avoid mistakes and hit the occasional deep pass.
I'm thinking that guy is McCown.
Two years ago, McCown completed almost 68 percent of his passes in five games, with a decent 7.3 yards-per-attempt average. Leftwich was vegetating on the Falcons bench and had little to do last season.
McCown also moves a whole lot better than Leftwich, and that probably will factor into Morris' decision.