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Friday, August 28, 2009
Time for cease-fire on Bucs' QB 'battle'

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- You want a quarterback battle? Go back to that day on the golf course when Casey Weldon and Trent Dilfer slugged it out.

That was a battle with two of Tampa Bay's quarterbacks throwing punches at each other after some dispute about counting putts. It was big news. I didn't see it, but I covered the aftermath when I worked for The Tampa Tribune. Both quarterbacks apologized and tried to pass it off as boys being boys.

That was good entertainment. What we saw out of Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown in Thursday night's lightning-interrupted preseason game, was more like one of those later "Rocky" movies. All hype and no real substance.

No Mas?

Let's hope there's a peace treaty on this "battle" when coach Raheem Morris meets with the media Friday afternoon. Just go ahead and call this thing now. It's pretty clear Morris has wanted to go with Leftwich all along and that's suddenly looking like the safe decision for a team that wants to bring rookie Josh Freeman along slowly.

If Morris really wanted to go with McCown, he would have done it after the second preseason game. That's when McCown outplayed Leftwich in Jacksonville. Morris put off the decision and the implication was he saw the race as a dead heat.

Thursday night didn't do anything to change that. Leftwich had a few nice throws, but he also overthrew receivers five times, including one pass for a wide-open Kellen Winslow Jr. that he couldn't have caught if he was standing on Kellen Winslow Sr.'s shoulders.

Leftwich's stint ended with a 45-minute lightning delay. If McCown ever was going to firmly step up and claim the job, he had the opportunity. He didn't capitalize.

McCown completed five of 11 passes for 38 yards. He also supported some of the doubts the Bucs had about him. Without much help from the offensive line, McCown struggled to handle the pass rush. That's been the knock on him and it showed why he's been a backup his entire career and might be destined to stay in such a role.

If you thought this thing would play out naturally, it has. If you thought Leftwich or McCown would light it up and run away with this job, what were you thinking? All they've shown is they deserve to be backups.

But Morris has to pick a starter. There's really only one choice for a team that doesn't like to use the word "rebuilding," but clearly is.

That's Leftwich. He's the lesser of two evils and has more experience. That'll come in handy because he's going to be handing off a lot. The Bucs have said all along they want to be a running team and they probably want to do that more than ever now.

Leftwich probably can get you through a brutal earlier schedule better than McCown. Really, that's all Morris reasonably can be asking for at this point – try to scrape out a few wins with the running game and the defense in the first half of the season.

If you want to throw Freeman in as a starting candidate right now, don't. The second half of the season -- at the earliest -- is the soonest you're going to see him. If you saw Freeman getting flipped around by Miami's defense in the fourth quarter, you're probably thinking the same thing Morris should.

Right about now, Leftwich looks better than ever.