The Buccaneers had a different starting quarterback for three straight seasons (2005-07). That was until Jeff Garcia, who made the Pro Bowl in his Bucs debut, ended that streak when he started last Sunday's game vs. New Orleans.
However, Garcia's tenure as Tampa Bay's starting signal caller was put on hold as of Wednesday when Bucs head coach Jon Gruden announced that Brian Griese would start vs. the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
"We're going to start Brian Griese in the game," said Gruden. "I talked to Jeff and I talked to Brian. It's just my opinion, and I talked a lot about it with our coaches – Jeff right now is just not himself. We're going to give him a week off and try to get him ready to go. Brian had a good training camp and preseason. We're going to give Brian the ball and rally around him. Hopefully Jeff can get back and ready to roll soon."
Griese said Gruden informed him of the decision on Tuesday.
"He just explained that I'm going to play," Griese said. "I expressed to him my excitement, and the fact that I'll be ready to go. He wanted to know if I'll be ready to go and I told him I would. That was the extent of it."
Gruden's decision to bench Garcia and start Griese stems from the practice time Garcia missed during training camp and preseason due to a calf injury. He also is listed on this week's injury report with an ankle injury, which kept him out of Wednesday's practice.
Garcia was 24-of-41 (58 percent) for 221 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception in Tampa Bay's 24-20 loss to New Orleans last Sunday.
Last season, Garcia missed three games due to a back injury. Although the calf ailment is behind him, Garcia sustained an ankle injury vs. the Saints on Sunday and did not practice on Wednesday.
"It's been a very interesting last few months," said Gruden. "We had the injury that occurred late last season. We had a prolonged calf injury. I've studied everything he's done. I really believe in this guy as a quarterback. Right now [Jeff] is not the same guy he was, and I want him to be that. That's all I'm going to say until I see the ball thrown with the crisp, accurate velocity and confident swagger. We're going to let him sit out for a week and hopefully he can get back with us soon."
Garcia, 38, is in the final year of his contract with the Buccaneers. Earlier in the offseason, Garcia lobbied through the media for a new contract that would pay him more than the $2 million base salary he will earn this season. The Bucs offered Garcia a new contract, but the two sides could not agree on what the Pro Bowl signal caller was worth.
Adversity struck again in July when the Bucs expressed interest in trading for former Packers QB Brett Favre, who was eventually traded to the New York Jets.
Garcia missed a significant amount of playing time in camp and preseason. In his only preseason action, which came vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, Garcia tossed two interceptions. To put that number in perspective, he threw just four picks during the 2007 regular season. Garcia also struggled to find and hit open receivers vs. the Saints and threw an interception on Tampa Bay's last drive of the game, which ended in New Orleans' territory.
"I just want him to get healthy, physically and emotionally, and hopefully he can come back and be the type of quarterback I know he's capable of being," said Gruden.
"I'm a pretty good judge of Jeff Garcia, and I'm a big believer in him. I just believe right now that what we're seeing right now is not what Jeff Garcia is capable of doing. That doesn't mean he won't be back soon. I do believe the best thing to do is go with Brian Griese, and that's what we're doing."
The Bucs traded for Griese, 33, during the offseason. He played two seasons (2004-05) before joining the Chicago Bears for two years (2006-07).
Griese has started 78 of the 88 games he's played in during his 10-year career in stints with Denver, Miami, Tampa Bay and Chicago.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Griese had one of the best years of his career in his Bucs debut in '04 when he completed a career-high 69.3 percent of his passes for 2,632 yards and tossed 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The following season, Griese completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 1,136 yards and tossed seven touchdowns and seven interceptions before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, which opened the door for Chris Simms and eventually led to the team's decision to part ways with Griese due to limited salary cap room.
"He's a good quarterback," Gruden said of Griese. "Anybody that was at training camp and saw us play in the preseason realizes that he's sharp. He's had a lot of success here as a quarterback. The team is confident in him. We'll do the best we can. We're excited about seeing Brian Griese. At the same time, hopefully we'll get Jeff back soon.
"Brian did a lot here. When you consider all of the elements, we didn't have this offensive line, he didn't have some of the weapons we have. Statistically and from a functional standpoint he did great things here. He won a lot of games for us. He is a guy that will lead us this Sunday and we've got to rally around him."
Griese said he would try to build off of the success he had in Tampa Bay in his first stint with the Buccaneers.
"Well, to be honest I never wanted to leave Tampa," said Griese. "I never wanted to leave. I wanted to be here and for circumstances that you guys probably understand better than I do, it didn't work out. Bottom line is I'm happy to be back and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play with these guys. To go to war with the other 10 guys, and lead these men to victory and that is what it is all about to me.
"I don't know if they remember a whole lot from three years ago. I'm the same guy. I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses, so I'm going to try and play to those strengths and I'm not going to try and play outside of myself and try to be someone I'm not. I don't believe that this offense needs that. I think if I play my game and get us into good positions then the guys that are talented that we have on this offense will make plays. At the end of the day that is what we need to do to make plays."
If Griese performs well in Garcia's place, there's a chance he will remain Tampa Bay's starting quarterback, which would keep Garcia on the bench. Gruden did not rule out that possibility on Wednesday.
"Life is all about making the most of your opportunities," said Gruden. "We're very fortunate to have [Griese]. I don't want to underestimate the things Luke McCown has ahead of him, but we don't have a lot to speak about as far as controversies are concerned. We are doing what we think gives our team the best chance to win this game this Sunday. We better be ready to go because the Falcons are pretty impressive on the tape I've seen."
Griese started one of the three preseason games he played in during the preseason. He completed 26-of-35 (74.3 percent) of his passes for 174 yards and tossed one touchdown in those three exhibition contests.
While he took quite a few reps in place of Garcia during training camp and preseason, Griese did not get reps last week due to the need to get Garcia work in practice. Griese doesn't expect the one-week layoff to have a negative impact on his performance.
"I can't afford to take any time to get back into rhythm. I just have to hit the ground running," said Griese. "I'm going to do everything I can this week so Sunday I can hit the ground running. Because there is no room for error."
Griese hopes to capitalize on the opportunity because he knows that playing well could mean helping the 0-1 Bucs record their first win of the 2008 regular season.
"Well, I don't look at either way. I look at it as we are 0-1. We didn't play as well as we could've played last week. At all positions," said Griese. "I look at it as an opportunity to go out and get this thing back on track. It is just one game but I think this is a big game for us. I think to think about anything other that that wouldn't do it justice."
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