Old men and the D
At least now everybody knows how hardheaded Jeff Garcia can be. One week after having to leave the game because of a blow to his helmet, the Bucs' 37-year-old quarterback was at it again Sunday - scrambling for a first down and diving face-first to set up Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the season.
But this time he delivered the knockout, passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns to Joey Galloway in the Bucs' 31-14 win over the New Orleans Saints.
"It scares you at first," receiver Ike Hilliard said of Garcia's scrambling. "But you ought to see him at practice. He plays every play like it's a regular-season play in the game. He's nuts. He's absolutely nuts. He gets (ticked) off when he misses a check, when he misses a read, if a receiver doesn't run the right route, when the offensive line doesn't protect. He's all over everybody. You've got to love it. God, it's a shame he's not 25."
Garcia's stubbornness didn't stop there, butting heads with Jon Gruden on several plays the coach called. Gruden admitted he is still learning about his obstinate veteran quarterback.
"I don't know, if you're Tiger Woods' caddy, he's probably a hell of a lot different when he's playing for money than when he's hitting balls on the practice tees," Gruden said. "That's the only way I can tell you guys how it is. It's true. It's a relationship. Your girlfriend that you choose to marry, she might be a lot different when you get married. You have to go through these, and it's uncomfortable, it's hard."
Garcia didn't try to mask his frustration with some of the play-calling.
"I appreciate him understanding when I'm comfortable and not comfortable," Garcia said. "We have 5,000 plays in our playbook, so why not try something else?"
Still, the three-time Pro Bowler did credit Gruden with several calls that led to touchdown passes to Galloway.
The 35-year-old veteran had four catches for 135 yards, including a 69-yarder for his first score that was aided by Michael Clayton's devastating block of Saints safety Kevin Kaesviharn. "It was like the old 49ers right there - with Jerry (Rice) and John Taylor - with Joey catching a slant and going all the way," Garcia said. "That's what Joey can do for you."
The Bucs made it 21-0 at halftime against the defending NFC South champion Saints, who find themselves 0-2 while the Bucs are tied atop the division with Carolina (1-1).
Garcia needed just 36 seconds and two plays to put the ball in the end zone just before halftime. He started by hitting Hilliard, who beat linebacker Scott Fajita, for a 41-yard gain. "(Garcia) anticipated the play so well, it was so pretty," Hilliard said.
Garcia then fired a 24-yard scoring strike to Galloway in front of slipping Saints safety Josh Bullocks with 1:05 left in the half.
Galloway, who combined with Garcia have 22 years of NFL experience, averaged 33.8 yards per catch against the Saints.
"It's beyond comprehension if you ask me," corner Ronde Barber said of Galloway. "I don't understand his ability to stay at that level for this long, but I'm glad he's on my team. You can't fight speed. There's nothing you can counter speed with. Nothing at all."
The Bucs defense helped set the tone, creating turnovers that led to a pair of touchdowns. Linebacker Barrett Ruud forced running back Deuce McAllister to fumble, and Cato June intercepted struggling Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In fact, the Saints scored their first offensive touchdown of the regular season with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bucs defense held McAllister and Reggie Bush to a combined 76 yards on 20 carries. Meanwhile, Bucs running back Cadillac Williams overcame bruised ribs to score a pair of rushing touchdowns.
But it's how fast Gruden and Garcia can get on the same page that might determine the Bucs' success. And it might enable Garcia to remain in the lineup.
Garcia was determined to get the Bucs in the end zone Sunday, even if it meant taking another shot to his noggin.
"I thought he got knocked out, honestly," Gruden said of Garcia's scramble. "You just don't go in like that as a quarterback. It just says a lot. It sends a message to our defense that if our quarterback is going to stick his face in there for us, we're going to stick our face in there for him."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 17 September 2007