Carolina Panthers

Tampa Bay QB Josh McCown’s trip home not all he planned

Josh McCown’s trip home didn’t turn out as he’d hoped.

McCown, Tampa Bay’s quarterback whose family lives in the Charlotte area, didn’t do quite enough Sunday for the Buccaneers to win. Despite McCown’s 16-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that drew his team close, the Carolina Panthers beat the Buccaneers 19-17 at Bank of America Stadium.

McCown, who played for the Panthers in 2008 and ’09 as a backup to Jake Delhomme, was in the middle of the game in other, not nearly as positive ways for Tampa Bay. His fumble on the third play of the third quarter led to the Panthers’ only touchdown. And in what was one of the most bizarre plays of the season, what appeared to be an incomplete pass thrown by McCown turned out to be a fumble that stopped another Tampa Bay drive early in the fourth quarter.

In the end, it was another frustrating day for the Bucs (2-12), the only team not still in contention for the NFC South title.

“We’ve got two weeks to try and fix things,” said McCown. “I feel like we’ve done (some offensive) things effectively at the same time, but just not in the same game.”

McCown said he received a visit from his wife and four children Saturday at the Bucs hotel. He said traffic was too heavy for him to visit them at their Union County home, where they have lived since McCown’s time with the Panthers. He has since played for the United Football League’s Hartford Colonials, and back in the NFL with San Francisco and Chicago before signing with the Buccaneers this season. During two of his out-of-work stints, he volunteered as an assistant coach at Marvin Ridge High.

McCown, who has swapped in and out of the starting lineup this season with former N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon, was unhappy with his fumble Sunday, which came with the Bucs leading 10-9.

“I’ve got to find a way to hold on to the ball better,” he said. “It’s risky to separate it from your hands when you try to throw it away. It hurt us bad.”

And he was mystified about a play that was ruled a fumble after his arm was hit by Panthers safety Roman Harper and the ball ended up 18 yards downfield at the Panthers 27, where it was picked up by Carolina cornerback Bené Benwikere. The play, initially ruled an incompletion, was overturned after a challenge by Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

“I didn’t understand (the call),” said McCown, who completed 13-of-28 passes for 154 yards. “I felt like I threw it. I don’t understand how the ball goes that far downfield. I didn’t feel like I didn’t not throw it.”

Still, McCown gave the Bucs life on his touchdown run, which after the point-after, narrowed the score to 19-17 with 5 minutes, 20 seconds left.

McCown, who had dropped back to pass, had nobody open. With Carolina’s defenders playing off him, he took off.

“I’m our last option, so I took off and tried to get it in,” said McCown. “We knew all week we’d have to carry the ball over the goal line because of the kind of coverage (Carolina) plays. I wanted to get it in there as tight as I could.”

At least one of McCown’s former teammates was surprised.

“McCown, you’ve got to control him,” said Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, who plays pickup basketball with McCown at Charlotte’s Dowd YMCA in the offseason. “You could see him on that last play. McCown will pull one out on you and get loose. He’s an athlete. He’s a hooper. He can play. Give all credit to him.”

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