Even with the performance by Bucs backup quarterback Luke McCown, who went 29-for-37 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, head coach Jon Gruden is hoping that quarterback Jeff Garcia can return to the lineup on the road vs. Houston this weekend. Garcia was held out of the victory vs. the Saints on Sunday with a bruised back muscle.
McCown was impressive in his first start of the season and was able to stretch the defense in the passing game allowing more running room for running back Earnest Graham. However, McCown did make two mistakes that almost cost the Bucs a win with an interception return for a touchdown and being sacked by Saints defensive end Will Smith in the end zone for a safety.
Gruden was quick to answer on the possibility of Garcia's making the start on Sunday.
"We'll see how he feels today and tomorrow," Gruden said. "The players have tomorrow off; we'll see how he is Wednesday. We feel like he's making improvement and that's a good thing."
It was reported on ESPN's Sunday Countdown that Garcia had a small fracture in his back by Chris Mortensen. However, Gruden reiterated on Monday that there is nothing wrong with him other than having a sore back.
"I've already made a statement there," Gruden said. "There's nothing structurally wrong with his back. He's got a sore body and we'll go from there."
One of the signs that Gruden needs from his three-time Pro Bowl quarterback to put him in the starting lineup is for Garcia to be able to move around without pain. If Garcia can do everything he needs to do at the quarterback position with little or no pain this week and tells him he's ready to go the, Gruden will be satisfied enough to play him.
Gruden was impressed with what he saw out of McCown on the road against a heated NFC South rival in the Saints. There were several aspects of McCown's game under center that stood out to Gruden after reviewing the game film.
"He showed a lot of poise. That was a very loud, difficult place to play for any quarterback. They were jacked up," Gruden said. "The Saints are at full-strength, getting Charles Grant and [Brian] Young back. I thought he showed tremendous poise and great command, and he also made a lot of plays. Those three things stood out in my mind."
The fact that the Bucs all but wrapped up the NFC South division will not play a part in Gruden's decision with the quarterback situation. With four games remaining in the season, the Bucs still have an outside possibility of capturing the No. 2 seed in the NFC which would give Tampa Bay a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"He's a needed guy on our football team. We need to win another game," Gruden said. We're in the fight of our lives to win every Sunday and this week will be no different. If Garcia's cleared to play, he'll play."
McCown proved that he knows how to run Gruden's complex offense and isn't zoned in on one receiver. He was accurate to open the game completing the first 15 pass attempts and found 10 different receivers in the victory vs. the Saints. McCown also showed his mobility in getting out of the pocket and keeping a play alive, something that has been a big part of Garcia's success in the offense this season.
McCown led an offense that racked up 466 yards total offense, which was the fifth-best single-game total in franchise history. The Bucs racked up 285 yards total offense in the first half that ranks third-best since 1991 in the franchise's record books.
"He had some explosive runs, scrambles when he's not just avoiding a rush and keeping a play alive, he's avoiding a rush and running for 15 or 20 yards. I think he had two carries for 35 yards," Gruden said. "The ball he throws to Galloway, the 60 yard gain, is a big time play. It's a rifle, it's on the money, and there are three or four other plays he made scrambling on a naked bootleg hitting B.J. Askew with a defensive end right in his face. He showed some rare athleticism and playmaking."
GRUDEN CAUGHT ON CAMERA
Gruden was seen in the second half yelling obscenities toward the officials working the game after the Bucs had to waste a timeout in the third quarter. He was apologetic on Monday about his conduct on the sidelines vs. the Saints on Sunday.
"I have a lot of work to do and I'm doing my best," Gruden said. "I regret it and I'm not going to get into it anymore than that. I embarrassed myself, my mother and my family sometimes and I have to do a better job."
Gruden, however, didn't take full blame for what happened on camera Sunday.
"I wish the camera would focus on the game too honestly, but I have to show much more poise in those situations."
DEFENSE MAKES SECOND-HALF STAND
After giving up two big plays that led to a 14-13 first half lead vs. the Saints, the Bucs defense had a dominant second-half performance that led to the 27-23 victory. The Bucs held New Orleans scoreless in the second half, limited the passing game to only 50 yards and pounced on the fumble that led to Tampa Bay's game-winning drive.
The Bucs defensive line got little pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the first half, but stepped up with three sacks in the second half. The Saints were ranked first in the NFL allowing eight sacks in 11 games this season. With the three takedowns of Brees on Sunday, the Bucs have recorded almost half (five) of the sacks allowed by the Saints (11) this season.
"I thought they were tremendous. They got consecutive stops," Gruden said. "They gave our offense an opportunity to reload and we made a lot of different kind of plays. We had some good rushes, some games upfront, coverages were solid and I was impressed with that."
Tampa Bay's defense held the Saints to just 246 yards total offense on Sunday placing the Bucs back into the top five in the NFL in total defense. The Bucs also are ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 185 yards passing per game this season and are tied for 15th with 26 sacks. Tampa Bay's defense has spent most of the season ranked in the top 10, which has been the standard for many years.
The Bucs were ranked in the top 10 in defense for nine consecutive seasons before finishing 17th in 2006.
The Bucs got solid performances from defensive tackle Jovan Haye and rookie defensive end Gaines Adams vs. the Saints. Haye finished with two tackles, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Adams had four tackles, one sack and two quarterback hurries and is becoming a presence off the end for the Bucs.
"He is very good, he is getting better and getting and more and more confident with his game. He is a big part of our future. He has some real flash ability, and he is putting it together now. He is putting a lot of different things together and it shows," Gruden said. "He is getting off the ball well, and our games are improving too. He is working better, his stunt game is improving, he is playing a six technique, and he is getting better. His overall understanding of our defense is improving also. He showed great stamina and effort, and made a couple of big plays again yesterday."
Gruden has been pleased with Haye's performance this season as well.
"He is quietly had a very good season, and I can't say enough of what he has done, as a run defender, and a high effort player," Gruden said. "He has given us some pass rush where it is hard to rush the passer from. He is a great guy, he is just a great kid, and he has a tremendous motor. He is a disciplined, fiery guy and we are glad he is here."
STEVENS STEPS UP IN BIG MOMENT
Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens hasn't seen much playing time and has received more questions about his off-field problems more so than what he can do on the field. However, there was Stevens making the biggest catch of the season for the Bucs in a 27-23 victory that improved Tampa Bay's record to 8-4 and a three-game lead in the NFC South.
With 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Stevens was split out wide and McCown noticed the mismatch with the 6-foot-7 tight end on Saints cornerback Jason Craft, who is 5-foot-10. McCown threw the ball up high – a stop throw – so Stevens could go up over Craft for the reception. It worked to perfection and it didn't hurt that Stevens and McCown have been working together in practice for the majority of the season.
"It was a great catch and a great design by coach [Gruden] with a quick shift hoping that we would get them in their goal line defense which they were not and that wasn't something we prepared for during the week," McCown said. "They stayed in their base defense and ran a corner out with Jerramy. Jerramy recognized that, I recognized that and so I just tried to give him a throw that he could physically go up and get. We had a matchup, Jerramy and I was on the same page and had the same thought process."
Gruden wasn't surprised that Stevens was able to make the big catch after watching him play for five seasons with the Seahawks, including participating in Super Bowl XL. Stevens has 10 receptions for 86 yards (8.6 avg.) with one touchdown this season.
"He made a lot of big plays for Seattle over his career there. We're trying to incorporate him more and more into the offense," Gruden said. "I think that play he made yesterday just showcases his athletic ability and what he can do as a receiver. He's growing into the offense, I think, as an all-around tight end, proven as a blocker. He's a great kid, he's worked hard since he's been here [and] I'm happy for him."
BUCS-SAINTS REPLAY ON NFL NETWORK
After a come-from-behind victory from the Bucs vs. New Orleans, the NFL Network has decided to replay the game this week. The NFL Network chooses the five most exciting games in the league for every week and replays the games on the following week. The Bills-Redskins, Giants-Bears, Ravens-Patriots and Jaguars-Colts are the other four games that will be replayed this week.
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