Leftwich outdoes McCown in likely final test for Bucs' starting QB job

TAMPA, Fla. -- The race for Tampa Bay's starting quarterback job may finally have a clear-cut winner.

Given roughly the same amount of playing time to make their final cases during a 10-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night, Byron Leftwich outperformed Luke McCown to possibly create the separation Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris sought to make a decision.

While Morris wouldn't say which way he's leaning, Leftwich feels good about the body of work he's put together during practice and three preseason games.

"Hopefully, I'm the guy," he said.

"Obviously you want somebody to jump up and take it," Morris said. "We'll find out when we go back, look at the tape and evaluate this thing."

Chad Pennington led a drive that produced a field goal just before halftime, then led a long touchdown drive in the third quarter for the Dolphins (3-0). Mike Nugent kicked two field goals for Tampa Bay (1-2) on drives led by Leftwich.

Leftwich completed 9-of-17 passes for 100 yards in just over a quarter, working four possessions. He overthrew some open receivers in the rain, but was impressive on third down with throws of 21, 21 and 18 yards to Maurice Stovall to extend drives.

McCown also played a little more than a quarter without nearly as much success. He misfired on his first four passing attempts, finished 5-of-11 for 38 yards. He also was sacked twice while not producing any points for the second time in three games.

The sixth-year pro wouldn't speculate on what Morris might do.

"It's not for me to say. ... My part in it is preparing every day, being the best I can be and getting better from my mistakes," McCown said. "As long as I feel like I'm doing that, then I'm OK."

Throughout training camp, Morris said he wanted to make a decision on the starting quarterback before the third preseason game. His plan changed after neither player established himself as a clear-cut winner.

Leftwich played well one week and McCown had the stronger performance the next, with neither leading a long scoring drive but demonstrating an ability to take advantage of short fields to get the ball in the end zone.

The latest test allowed both to play a comparable amount of time with the first-team offense, minus injured starting receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton.

"I felt good," said Leftwich, whose night ended after lightning sent the teams to the locker room for a 45-minute weather delay in the second quarter. "I missed a few, but I hit a few also. Luckily for me on the ones I missed, I made plays on the following play to get those first downs."

The best news of the night for the Bucs was the running of Cadillac Williams, who made his preseason debut seven months after having major knee surgery.

The 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year has been limited the past three seasons because of injuries, but looked a lot like his old self against the Dolphins. He started and carried eight times for 54 yards, with a long of 19 yards.

"The knee is not an issue to me. ... I feel great," Williams said. "I'm just loving what I do."

Pennington set up Dan Carpenter's 34-yard field goal with a 19-yard completion on third-and-10 to Ted Ginn. His 54-yard completion to Brian Hartline led to a 2-yard touchdown throw to Anthony Fasano in the third quarter.

"It was a very odd game for us, as far as the rain delay, a lot of stoppages of play and things like that," said Pennington, who ran just three plays to Leftwich's 24 in the opening quarter.

"We were able to come out get a score before halftime and get a score after the half. We'll build on that. We'll be critical of ourselves and make sure we don't let a win overshadow what we need to do to get better."