TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were only four plays into their win against the Falcons on Sunday when rookie quarterback Mike Glennon made a throw that explains why he’s beginning to separate himself, at least in one regard, from a lot of other quarterbacks around the NFL.
On third-and-4 from Tampa Bay’s 45-yard line, Glennon was quickly flushed out of the pocket by a pair of Falcons pass rushers. Instead of forcing a throw into a tight window while on the run, he simply threw the ball out of bounds and surrendered the down.
As disappointed as he was to bail on the play, and therefore the series, Glennon knew he was making the right decision. It’s that type of veteran-like decision making that has put Glennon near the top of the league in one of its most important categories.
With only four interceptions in 248 pass attempts, Glennon enters Sunday’s game at Detroit with the third fewest interceptions among passers who have made 100 throws or more. His 1.6 interception percentage is sixth best in the league.
“If you look back at the previous couple games, a lot of the good things that have happened were the result of Mike protecting the football and making those sound decisions,” Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a very mature young man, and he’s got a tremendous football IQ.’’
Glennon didn’t necessarily come by that IQ naturally. Much of the veteran-like savvy he’s displayed in those critical moments is the result of four years of tutelage he received playing for head coach Tom O’Brien and quarterbacks coach Dana Bible at North Carolina State.
Glennon chose N.C. State’s scholarship offer over several others, including one from then-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, specifically because it offered him a chance to play in a pro-style system and learn the nuances of the pro game.
There is little doubt the education is paying off. When Glennon threw his most recent interception — on third-and-10 from the Bucs 20-yard line late in the third quarter against Miami — it broke a personal string of 158 passes without a pick.
That streak was the longest ever for a Buccaneers rookie and the longest by an NFL rookie since Philadelphia’s Nick Foles threw 168 passes without an interception a year ago.
Overall, Glennon has thrown just two interceptions in his past 205 pass attempts. Second-year Bucs coach Schiano believes those numbers are not just the by-product of Glennon’s football upbringing, but also his work ethic and passion for preparation.
“There are very few players in the National Football League that work as hard as this kid does,’’ Schiano said. “And I can attest to that because I see when he gets here and when he leaves. And it’s not players lounge time that he’s getting.’’
Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky will attest to Glennon’s work ethic, too. The nine-year veteran said he and Glennon have spent hundreds of hours the past seven months dissecting plays, which is the most tedious task a quarterback is asked to do.
“It’s boring football, but you have to go over what you’re supposed to do with the ball on every single play, over and over again,’’ Orlovsky said. “It sounds easy, but it’s one of the hardest things you have to do.
“You have to know what your guys are doing, what the defense is doing, where the weakness is in the defense, where the strength is in the defense. And then you have to go out there and do all that while you’re getting hit in the face.
“It’s mastering where you’re supposed to go with the ball and he’s done a good job of it, because it’s hard to play quarterback in this league, but it’s even harder to play quarterback as a rookie and at the level he’s playing at right now.’’
It is a level few rookies have reached in recent years. Glennon’s 87.7 passer rating, which ranks 14th overall in the league, is the second-best through seven starts for a rookie since the start of the 2010 season, after Robert Griffin III’s 101.8 rating last season with Washington.
Glennon is also the only current rookie quarterback to lead his team to two consecutive wins, and his 11 touchdown passes ties him with Minnesota’s Christian Ponder (2012) for the most through seven games by a rookie since the start of the 2010 season.
Like Schiano, Sullivan and Orlovsky, Glennon attributes his success so far to the coaching he’s had in college and with the Bucs, and to his work ethic. He also believes he’s benefitted from the help of the players around him.
“Dan Orlovsky’s been great, always talking about taking what’s there and not trying to win the game on one play and how completions lead to first downs and first downs lead to touchdowns,’’ Glennon said.
“So all season long, I’ve kept that in mind and if I feel like it’s cloudy at all, I just move on to the next progression. And when it’s there I take the shot. When it’s not there, I just check it down or throw the ball away and move on.
“But the receivers have done a great job, too, and the offensive line, they’ve been tremendous. (Opposing pass rushers) haven’t been getting near me at all and having a clean pocket like that makes things so much easier.’’