Player Of The Game: Jeff Garcia
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 20 October 2008|
It's games like this that make you wonder why Bucs QB Jeff Garcia was pulled from the lineup in the first place. Yeah, we know; he was injured and out of rhythm. Well, he's sure back in form now. In his second start since regaining his starting job, Garcia looked as lively and as sharp as he ever did a year ago while driving the Bucs to the playoffs. He completed 27 of 36 throws and a touchdown this time out and seemed to have a real connection with Antonio Bryant.
Garcia's 47-yard throw to Bryant on the Bucs' sixth play from scrimmage was right on the mark, and the touchdown it produced seemed to set the tone for the game. This was a game the Bucs were expected to win, and with their typically stellar defensive play and Garcia's sound play under center, they easily met expectations.
Barrett Ruud didn't produce any real eye-popping numbers, just a number of eye-popping plays. To go along with his team-leading six tackles he tipped the pass that wound up in Aqib Talib's hands and set up the Bucs' third score.
He also made a key stop on a third-and-8 play, limiting Maurice Morris to a 4-yard gain and forcing the Seahawks to settle for a field goal when they were showing signs of rallying in the third quarter. Ruud also had a tackle for a loss and recovered a fumble late in the first half, spoiling a Seahawks drive after just two plays and setting up a Bucs scoring opportunity.
It was made way back in the offseason, when the Bucs decided to give beleaguered wide receiver Antonio Bryant a chance to renew his career. Bryant was easily the Bucs' best receiver during the offseason program and training camp, and he continues to play at a high level in the regular season.
He has really eased the pain of losing Joey Gallway, and he continued to step up Sunday after Ike Hilliard went down with a head injury. Bryant's six receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown Sunday gave him a team-leading 31 receptions for 406 yards. The Bucs probably wouldn't be 5-2 at this point without him.
The Bucs opened the second quarter by running a play out of the seldom (if ever) used wildcat formation. Quarterback Jeff Garcia lined up as a receiver wide to the right, with Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham alone in the backfield. Center Jeff Faine's shotgun snap went to Dunn, who handed off to Graham. Graham ran around right tackle, but with only Garcia to lead the block on the second level, Graham gained just 3 yards.
Crunching The Numbers
The victory was the 56th overall for Jon Gruden as Bucs coach. That ties him with Tony Dungy for most overall victories by a Bucs coach. Gruden's 56 include three playoff victories.
Bryant's touchdown was his first of the season.
The game was the first for the Bucs on prime-time national television since 2006 and their first contest at home at night since 2003, when they defeated the New York Giants 19-13.
The Bucs are 13-8 at home at night.
The Bucs' 5-2 start is tied for the best in franchise history. This is the sixth time Tampa Bay has started 5-2, with the last time coming in 2005.
The Bucs allowed only seven first downs Sunday, tying for the third-lowest mark in team history.
Garcia threw for 226 yards in the first half, the most he has even thrown for in a half during his career.
Hard to imagine the Bucs doing a better job honoring Mike Alstott. Not only did they win the game, they let Alstott run out of the tunnel again and let him take the field with the captains for the coin toss. Why, he and Jon Gruden even hugged. It was a nice night. Flags with Alstott's number 40 flew over the stadium, and the Bucs cheerleaders wore special Alstott jerseys. The whole Alsott tribute was very well done.
On the field, meanwhile, the Bucs continued to prove why they may be as good as any team in the NFC. Their defensive play has just been stellar. The offense, meanwhile, is coming around. It's still not scoring at will, but nothing really seems to slow it down. If this keeps going, the Rays may not be the only team in the area claiming a conference title in 2008.