Garcia Squeezes, But Bucs Miss All Day Long
As exciting as it seemed, it still came down to just plain ugly. It came down to a Bucs offense that wasted time nearly all day and was now running out of clock. Jeff Garcia had an idea on fourth down at the New Orleans Saints' 24-yard line with less than a minute left. He spotted Antonio Bryant across the middle and thought, for an instant, wrongly, that he could make it happen. "I thought I could squeeze it in there," Garcia said.

He couldn't. The interception by New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, Garcia's first this year after throwing only six picks all of last season, sealed a 24-20 season-opening loss. But that wasn't the play that truly typified the afternoon. No, that might have come on the offensive series before that - Garcia throwing deep down the left side for his long lost bottle rocket, Joey Galloway, thinking Joey G. would beat his man deep. Only Galloway pulled up. The ball landed way behind him on the Superdome rug. "We didn't hook up," Galloway said.

What a mess. Yes, there were other problems, like an uncharacteristic slew of big plays allowed by the Bucs defense. Oh, and D. Brooks' hammy. And there were some bright spots on offense, like Garcia's short touchdown dart to Ike Hilliard to grab the lead in the fourth quarter.

And the Bucs really might be able to run the ball. They should have run it more Sunday, since Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn managed nicely, even without any blocks from the injured Davin Joseph. But mostly the offense stopped and started and stopped. It missed all day. Frankly, the quarterback had a lot to do with it. The star receiver didn't exactly help. You would have hardly known they connected on six pass plays. Is it time to hold Garcia and Galloway by the ankles and dip them in Rust-Oleum?

It would be better than the other notion. The one that says last season was a dream, the one that asks what Brett Favre did Sunday (two TD passes, one win), or asks Brian Griese to get loose. Garcia had a bad day. It was only one day, but he has had better ones. He kept missing. The Bucs went zero for their first eight third-down conversions and 2-for-12 on the day. They punted on seven of their first eight possessions. Garcia looked like he was under pass pressure even when he wasn't. "We had chances to make plays on the offensive side," Jon Gruden said.

For his part, Gruden should have run more. The Bucs had a better chance Sunday of a big play on the ground than in the air, since Garcia and Galloway spent the summer in mothballs. It showed. What made all of it worse was a highly winnable opener. "It was one of those games where you have to find a way, and we didn't," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "We're capable of a lot better than what we showed today," Garcia said.

They'd better be. Last season began with a road loss, too. The Bucs didn't score a single touchdown in that one. After that, Garcia started making a difference. That can happen again. It didn't Sunday. "I don't know if there was necessarily rust," Garcia said. "I think there were opportunities that were left out on the field."

He recalled the play where Galloway hit the brakes ... "I felt like Joey got into a position where he was going to be able to outrun the corner on a corner route and I just think he probably didn't see the ball ..."

As for the big pick, Garcia had two options: Bryant across the middle and Hilliard on the outside. He chose Bryant. "I think the major thing for me was that I lost track of where the linebacker was. ... Unfortunately, I didn't make the right decision. ... The last play of the game, I put that on myself. It's just a forced error that was unfortunate. Those are things I need to correct, and correct in a hurry."

Next Sunday always comes early.

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 8 September 2008