NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (1-3) at New Orleans (1-3) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - He's not at the Brady, Manning, Montana level just yet.
But for Mike Glennon, it's certainly a step in the right heroic direction.
The second-year Tampa Bay quarterback enters a Week 5 visit to New Orleans coming off the best come-through-in-the-clutch moment of his young career, when he hit Vincent Jackson with a decisive touchdown pass with seven seconds to play in a 27-24 win at Pittsburgh.
The Bucs had started 0-3 under Josh McCown before Glennon took the reins thanks to a thumb injury the veteran suffered during a 42-point thrashing by the Atlanta Falcons. The 2014 starting debut saw Glennon finish not only with a victory, but a career-high 302 yards and two scoring throws.
And to be sure, it caught the attention of Lovie Smith, too.
"You do judge quarterbacks on what they do late, and he was at his best at the end, right up until the last throw," said the first-year Bucs coach, who arrived on the Gulf Coast after nine years in Chicago.
"When you're labeled the quarterback of the future, that's what you're supposed to do when you come out. The future was in front of us a little earlier than the initial plan, but you need to be ready. How (Glennon) handled it right there at the end, having to make that final throw, kind of said it all."
Presuming Glennon gets the call again on Sunday - McCown was listed questionable as of Wednesday - he'll face a Saints team that's not only reeling following a one-sided debacle of its own, but one that's been particularly accommodating to opposing quarterbacks through the season's first four weeks.
New Orleans hasn't recorded a single interception in four games, and it hasn't forced a turnover of any sort since a 37-34 loss to Atlanta in Week 1. The Saints are tied for 28th (with the Buccaneers) in a 32-team league with an average of 272.5 aerial yards allowed per week, and their per-week ground allowance of 123.5 yards is 21st in the NFL.
Tampa Bay's Doug Martin returned from a two-game absence to rack up 40 yards on 14 attempts against Pittsburgh. He'd been sidelined since Week 1 with a knee injury and is averaging just 2.1 yards per carry on 23 rushes so far this season. He surpassed 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, but was limited to just six games - and 456 yards - last season.
Bobby Rainey is the top runner so far for the Buccaneers, with a 4.9-yard average on 41 rushes. And though the initial three losses dug his team a standings hole, Smith remains optimistic thanks to a muddled NFC South Division in which Tampa Bay is just a game behind co-leaders Carolina and Atlanta.
"In the big scheme of things there are a lot of disappointed teams in the league," he said. "For us, we're one game away and we have another chance to get a division road game. What better position for us to be in? We're getting some of our injured players back, and our guys can see where we can go."
The Saints haven't been an easy target for the Bucs in their last two meetings, which New Orleans has won by a combined 83-17. Still, coach Sean Payton and Co. enter this matchup while still licking wounds from a surprise Monday night trouncing by the Dallas Cowboys that ended with a 38-17 result.
New Orleans has won nine straight at home and five in a row against Tampa Bay, which provides some reason for good feeling in spite of the defensive struggles that have tempered some of the Super Bowl chatter which dotted myriad preseason previews.
"You have to be realistic and know that we're not as good as we thought we were," linebacker Junior Galette said. "We have three quarters (of the schedule) left, and we have to improve drastically. Nothing is encouraging right now. We're not looking at other teams. We're looking at ourselves, and how we played (against Dallas) was discouraging. At the same time, you've got to be tough and be strong through these tough times because they never last."
Gun-slinging quarterback Drew Brees hit on 32-of-44 passes for two touchdowns and 340 yards against the Cowboys, but Dallas managed 190 yards on the ground while becoming the second Saints opponent to surpass 30 points this season - matching the total from all of 2013.
On average, New Orleans has allowed more than 33 points per game, but it gave up just nine in its lone home appearance thus far - a 20-9 throttling of Minnesota in Week 3. In the nine-game Superdome win streak, the Saints have outscored opponents by an average of 17.6 points.
The last five wins against the Bucs have come by a similar 17.2 average, a stretch in which Brees has compiled a 113.3 passer rating and 15 touchdowns while averaging 329 yards per game.
"It's challenging. It's disappointing. It's frustrating," Payton said. "But it's on all of us now. Obviously, it's not where you want to be one quarter through the season. There's a lot of things that need to be cleaned up. Quite honestly, we're playing like a 1-3 team right now, and that's what our record is."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Renewing a Sideline Rivalry
It's Smith's first crack at the Saints as coach in Tampa Bay, but he'll be aiming to continue a tidy little stretch of success against New Orleans from his days with the Bears.
Chicago defeated the Saints in the NFC Championship Game in 2006, then beat them in both 2007 and 2008 in games that mathematically ended their postseason chances. Last time in New Orleans, however, Smith was whipped, 30-13.
What's So Special?
The Bucs have encountered repeated difficulty in the third phase of the game, including having both a punt and a field goal blocked in a Week 2 loss to St. Louis.
Four days later, they were on the ugly end of Devin Hester's record-breaking 20th career return touchdown for the Falcons. Meanwhile, kicker Patrick Murray has already missed three field goals in 10 early-season attempts, all from beyond 40 yards.
Which way you go depends largely on which version of the Saints you expect to see - and just how much you take from the Bucs' rally to defeat Pittsburgh.
Regardless of the standings, New Orleans does still boast a prolific offense that's led by one of the generation's top quarterbacks, and unless Tampa Bay can find a way to hold him in check for a full 60 minutes, it simply doesn't have the weapons to compete.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 30, Buccaneers 17