It's the morning of December 16th, and I write this article sitting outside on a balcony in my pyjamas. If I was in the UK, I'd probably be in the process of losing extremities to frost bite; but I'm currently in downtown Tampa, where the temperature is more comparable to September in the UK. Yesterday, I got to see my Bucs playing in the Raymond James Stadium for the first time - which despite the score was a real thrill, and taught me first hand that seeing your team playing at Wembley doesn't even come close to seeing them at their home ground.
I also got to see Mike Glennon playing in the flesh rather than on a computer or television screen. Watching him play in real life was illuminating to say the least; everything appears magnified. When he did well (those two touchdown drives in particular), everything he did looked better than it does on TV. Yet, the flipside is also true: all those flaws that we've seen in his game throughout the season were more apparent, and their effects more damaging, than it ever seemed to be on the broadcasts. I'll delve into some of the stats before going on to add my observations from being at the game.
On one third-and-4 play, one of the 49ers' defenders jumped offsides, giving the Bucs a first down; I remembered thinking at the time that it was the team's first first down of the day. Going through the stats when I got back to my hotel, the first down situation yesterday was simply atrocious. The team managed 13 first downs yesterday, versus San Fransisco's 22 first downs. The discrepancy isn't the troubling statistic, however: on their two touchdown drives, the Bucs managed to claim 11 first downs. That's right - in the other nine possessions the Bucs had (discounting the 'possession' consisting of that botched reverse-kick return), they managed to get just two first downs - and that includes the first down the Bucs got from that offsides penalty.
In those the two touchdown drives, in which Glennon did seem to play very, very well, he completed 13-of-16 passes; for the rest of the game Glennon went 5-of-18. He completed just 1-of-8 in the second half outside of that second touchdown drive.
Here's a more worrying stat; the Bucs dialed up a pass play on every third down they faced - and Glennon managed to convert just one, coming on the second TD drive. Yes, the 49ers are of course a very good defense, but this is the second week in a row where Glennon looks on fire for two touchdown drives, and then completely disappears on every other drive in the game. You simply cannot win with an offense that can only have two sustained drives all game.
(Quick aside - for all of Glennon's issues, Mike Sullivan did very little to try and give him help. What happened to balanced playcalling? Yes, the run plays Sullivan calls seem to never be productive, but the answer is to change the run plays you call, not abandon the run - but with a pass/run ratio of 34 to just 12, Sullivan did exactly that.)
In all, Glennon's showing yesterday was dire on paper - but what of his play on the field?
As I said before, watching a game live makes things more obvious than they are on TV, and if I took one thing away from watching the game yesterday, it's that I underestimated just how slow Glennon goes through his progression, how long he holds onto the ball waiting for a receiver to come open before he decides to move on to the next read. I don't think I once saw him hitch to the backside of a play if the playside reads were covered. There was one sack, I believe it was Justin Smith's, where he simply stood and stared at Smith, deer-in-headlights-esque, as he came free and headed towards him.
Even without the benefit of TV replay or broadcast angles, it was clear from the stands the number of plays where Glennon checked down, or went for shorter throws (especially on third down), when there were deeper routes open. It's the same thing we've seen regularly, and there's been very limited development, if any, in this area. It was frustrating to see him taking those safe-but-unproductive throws when the team needed a spark. It was frustrating to see him throwing the ball out of bounds on third down when there were open receivers. It was frustrating seeing that the ball placement remains erratic - the interception might have been a result of Owusu tipping it into the air, but that was a direct result of Glennon throwing too high and too far behind the receiver. It was especially frustrating seeing that, for all but two drives, Glennon's pocket presence had only two gears - statue, or scramble.
And it was especially frustrating because, on those two touchdown drives, Glennon looked like an entirely different quarterback.
Those drives were truly magical. Glennon made quick reads and correct decisions; he threw the ball accurately and placed them well; most importantly, his whole body was in sync. Not only did that see him stepping into his throws, making the passes more accurate and giving them a little more zip, but it resulted in him displaying true NFL-standard pocket awareness, shifting away from pressure while staying between the tackles and keeping his eyes downfield, and even - hallelujah! - climbing the pocket to allow his blockers to wash defenders upfield past him as he made his throw. That was most evident on his second touchdown pass (if memory serves), stepping into the pocket as both Donald Penn and Demar Dotson wheeled their assignments past the QB, allowing him to stand tall and make a fantastic throw to Wright with accuracy and touch.
If you see that play in isolation, you can understand why there are some who feel Glennon should be named the starter for 2014. If Glennon could make throws like that regularly, or at least display some of the elements of the play - having a feel for pressure, climbing the pocket instead of scrambling in panic, stepping into his throws, throwing in front instead of behind receivers - more consistently, there wouldn't be a question about who the Bucs' signal caller next season will be. If he develops this offseason to the point where he's able to be the quarterback that he proved, during those to touchdown drives, that he can be, for an entire game, then he could be the team's leader for years to come.
If. If. If. Are there flashes in Glennon's play to suggest he could be The Answer? Absolutely. He's a young rookie, so the chances are he will improve this offseason - but the question that has to be asked is, "by how much?". If the arc of Glennon's development during what has been a tumultuous rookie season was an upwards curve, then it would at least be understandable that some would project along that rate of development when thinking about how much he might get better in the offseason. Anyone who genuinely believes that Glennon has been getting better every week, though, clearly either doesn't have the means of watching game film, or simply choose not to. His development has been as erratic and streaky as his drive-to-drive performance the past two games. Can anyone really feel certain enough that Glennon will make a big-enough jump in this upcoming offseason, that they're willing wager the entire 2014 campaign on it?
It all comes down to consistency. Consistency in the rate of the quarterback's development. Consistency in his ability to both sense, and deal with, pressure. Consistency in ball placement, accuracy, read progression, anticipation, decision making. If Glennon had shown even incremental, but consistent, improvement in these areas, the discussion around Glennon would be very different.
Instead, the only consistent thing about Glennon's play is his inconsistency. It's why I cannot understand how Schiano, or Dominik, can feel confident enough that Glennon will develop into a consistent-enough quarterback to save their jobs in 2014 - assuming they still have them after 2013. Frankly, if Schiano and Dominik do not bring in someone to compete with Glennon, and can be a viable starter if Glennon doesn't develop, then even before the season begins, they will have already failed to do their jobs - giving the team the best possible chance to win.
They may have every hope that Glennon can consistently become the quarterback he's shown flashes of being; but waiting for a quarterback to become consistent enough in their fundamentals to be The Answer just because of a few flashes? We've seen that story before. If you decide not to take out insurance on your house, you have no-one to blame but yourself if it catches fire, and you don't have a penny to show for it. If the Bucs do not get some viable insurance for their inconsistent quarterback in case he isn't able to iron out the streakiness of his game in the offseason, then they will have no-one to blame but themselves if the 2014 campaign ends in ashes.