Unfortunately for Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the media got to him before head coach Jon Gruden could on Monday, alerting the rookie that backup Tim Rattay would in fact get the start this Sunday at Cleveland.
But like the Bucs fans watching the Bears game Sunday, Gradkowski’s logic told him that was a foregone conclusion.
“I didn’t talk to coach at all, but I figured that would be the case,” Gradkowski said Monday morning when asked if he was made aware of the switch.
“You know Tim [Rattay] came in and played a good game and we were moving the ball good, so I just have to take it as it is.”
Gruden called the move common sense and said based on their performances, he feels Rattay gives the team a better chance to win right now.
The veteran quarterback led the Bucs offense on four touchdown drives in five possessions in Chicago. By contrast, the unit had gone 42 possessions without hitting pay dirt under Gradkowski.
In his 10 starts leading up to Sunday’s game, Gradkowski established a favoritism for wide receiver Joey Galloway, but it was his inability to connect with him on a regular basis that contributed to his demotion.
Gradkowski misfired on several first-half passes to Galloway on Sunday. It was a theme that had became all too familiar to Gruden.
“We thought we had some good looks early in this game to get after them and make some big plays,” Gruden said. “That hurt us. It hurts us, our inability to connect on some of these patterns down field.”
The switch came because Gruden thinks things might be moving too fast for his young quarterback and that he seemed to be a little out of rhythm.
Any doubts that Gradkowski wasn’t largely to blame for the offense’s struggles were erased by Rattay, who stepped in and hit Galloway in stride on a 64-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He confirmed the point by hooking up with Ike Hilliard on 44-yard score on the Bucs’ next possession. The two plays accounted for the team’s longest offensive touchdowns of the season and came against what was the league’s No. 3 pass defense.
“I’ve always been confident in my ability,” Rattay said. “When you get into a game like that, you’re just trying to win. We got some things going. That was kind of the main focus. I’m just frustrated we couldn’t close it out.”
On Monday, Gruden’s voice was firm and unwavering when it came to announcing Rattay as the starter, yet he still made somewhat of an attempt to preserve Gradkowski’s ego, reiterating that he has been the victim of dropped passes, a difficult schedule and things beyond his control.
Of course, Gruden was also hit with obvious question; why wasn’t a change made sooner? While Gruden admitted giving thought to earlier in the season, but he felt Gradkowski was just going through some growing pains and was committed to helping him get better.
He said he hadn’t seen the rookie struggle to the degree he did until recently. If Gradkowski was beginning to recognize looks and develop an ability to make plays, it wasn’t enough because in the end, he was replaced because he was simply unable to complete drives and produce points.
“Did I wait too long?” Gruden said Monday. “That’s up to you to decide.”
While Rattay said he was obviously “fired up” about starting, the other side to the story was forced to contemplate mistakes.
“Defenses have been giving me different looks and I’ve been seeing things pretty well, but it’s just a matter of executing and hitting the receiver,” Gradkowski said. “Sometimes it’s just a feel. Sometimes I drop back and they are moving a little faster out there on the field so I don’t want to be careless with the ball so I throw it kind of in a safe spot which it might not be completed all the time.”
At the time he was pulled, Gradkowski had completed 5-of-11 passes for 37 yards, his 54 passer rating even lower than his 66.3 season average heading into the game.
The third-round pick said he never imagined coming in and being a starter this year and that it will be tough to sit back and watch after playing so much. But don’t count him out, he says. Gradkowski feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to play and hopes to use his time on the sidelines to learn.
Tim Rattay only managed to get a couple of series in with the first team during the week of practice leading up to the Bears game. That will change this week as the offense gears up to face a Cleveland team ranked next to last in the NFL in total defense.
Although his timing with receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard appeared solid, Rattay looks forward to getting more reps with the first team offense.
“I don’t get a lot of throws with those guys you know, obviously since training camp,” Rattay said. “So, you know, it will be good to get some throws with them this week because those guys obviously don’t do scout team.
It almost seems cruel and redundant to describe Gradkowski as having that ‘deer in the headlights’ look, but that’s how many critics have tabbed his play this season.
Subsequently, Rattay, a 7th-year veteran, appeared as calm and relaxed as a quarterback could be on Sunday, starring down one of the NFL’s best defenses and coming within three points of a major upset.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Rattay doesn’t come off as your prototypical NFL quarterback. In the locker room, he is as unassuming and soft spoken a player as you’ll find, rarely breaking into any form of expression that would lead you to believe he is capable of commanding an offense full of muscle-bound backs and linemen.
But listening to left tackle Anthony Davis talk about the Bucs’ first scoring drive may paint a different picture. Â
“He’s a competitor. A warrior,” Davis said of Rattay. “He gets in the huddle and he really takes over the team. He had us thinking the whole time that we could come back.”
“You look at the score 24-3. Everybody on the outside looking in said, ‘Oh, they’re done’ and some people probably left the stadium. But Tim had it in our minds that we were going to come back.”
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
Until last week’s game against Atlanta, it had been more than a year since Tim Rattay had taken a snap from center in a regular season game. His last action came in October of 2005 while with the San Francisco 49ers.
Before he was afforded an opportunity to feel the grass under his feet, he was welcomed back to live action with a ferocious hit by Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher, who came on a blitz untouched and stamped Rattay into the ground at Soldier Field.
“We completed that pass, so it was good,” Rattay said Monday. “It’s good to get hit a little bit.”
The field position the offense gained on the play paled in comparison to what it spoke about Rattay’s toughness to his teammates.
“He knew he was going to take a shot,” Davis said. “You look at him take a shot like that and he gets back in the huddle and says to us, ‘Yo, you give me some protection and I’m going to pick them apart.’ And I love that.
“Later, on the touchdown to Galloway, he came in the huddle and said, ‘You protect, and this is a score. And I’ll be dammed if it wasn’t.”
Despite a couple of solid hits on blitzes, Rattay said the protection he received from his line on Sunday was the best he has seen in his seven-year career.
The Bears had two sacks in the game, both against Gradkowski. Rattay, on the other hand, dropped back 35 times without going down. Gruden credited offensive line coach Bill Muir with creative pass protection, which included tight ends and running backs chipping on defenders before releasing into their pass patterns.
PHYSICAL AND FUN
After watching tape of the loss to Atlanta, some Bucs players felt Falcons defenders got the best of them, hitting backs and receivers late and just being more physical.
In the week leading up to the Bears game, fullback Mike Alstott was reportedly firing his team up, telling them to come out against Chicago and be physical.
It was Alstott’s 14-yard touchdown run that began to give life to an otherwise dead offense. On the third play of that same drive, rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall made a spectacular catch for 19 yards and a much needed first down.
Talk around the Bucs locker room on Monday pointed to those two plays as being the spark that Tampa Bay was looking for.
Rattay said it was all about relaxing and enjoying the game.
“It was fun, I think that was kind of the message this week, get back to having fun,” he said. “Because you know a lot of work goes into it but when the game comes, you got to have some fun.”
NOWHERE TO RUN TO
For the sixth time in his last eight games, Bucs running back Cadillac Williams failed to get at least 50 yards rushing.
In fact, Tampa Bay’s run game has nearly come to a complete halt, ranking 29th out of 32 teams and averaging 90 yards per game. Alstott’s 14-yard touchdown was the Bucs’ longest run of the day Sunday.
Gruden said the team clearly has to do a better job running the football, but avoided a direct answer when asked if he thought he possessed the right players to run-block up front, saying, “I do think we have some of the components in place and some areas obviously we’ve got to get much better at.”
BUCS-BEARS GAME TO RE-AIR
Although it didn’t have the result they were looking for, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ game vs. the Chicago Bears will be aired on NFL Replay on the NFL Network at 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The Buccaneers trailed the Bears 24-3 in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, but rallied behind Tim Rattay to tie the score at 31 and send it into overtime. The Bears kicked a field goal to win the game in overtime, 34-31.
Looking for the best selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise? Pewter Report endorses Sports Fan-Attic, with 9 Tampa Bay area locations in most major malls. To shop for Bucs merchandise on the Internet, as well as the largest selection of NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR, visit SportsFanAtticShop.com.