Garcia breathes life into offense
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 17 November 2008

The thing to remember about life is that sometimes it doesn't always go smoothly. Sometimes, it is a constant scramble, and all you can do is dodge the major obstacles the best you can. Sometimes, it looks a little ugly, and your legs look out of synch and your arms flail hopelessly along the way. Sometimes, it looks as if you are desperately trying to pull control out of the chaos.

Sometimes, it looks a lot like Jeff Garcia, the Bucs' ramblin', scramblin' man. And if Tampa Bay still has life today, it is because Garcia has given it to them. Consider Sunday's 19-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, for instance, when Garcia kept plays alive, kept drives alive and, eventually, kept his team's hopes alive.

For most of the afternoon, Garcia was 38 going on 28, and his legs would not stop churning. He was roaming around the pocket, making plays and finding possibilities. He was lurching forward for first downs, at times showing the grace of a man trying not to fall down a hill.

Still, because of him, the Bucs won. Still, because of him, the season has possibilities. Say what you want about these Bucs. Their red zone offense still turns too many potential touchdowns into field goals, and they still make too many boneheaded mistakes, and their short yardage always seems a long way away. No one is throwing words like "greatness" in their general direction.

Still, they have won seven of their 10 games, and in the NFL, that's good enough to allow a team to dream. For Garcia, a quarterback in a second life of his own, that's worth the fresh stitches he is wearing in his chin this morning.

"Garcia was great today," said Jon Gruden, the man who pointed Garcia toward the bench earlier in the season. "He's completing almost every pass. He ran himself, kept some plays alive and really competed. That was one great performance against a heck of a defense."

Consider the third-and-3 play in the first quarter, when Garcia couldn't find anyone, then drifted to his left, then scrambled away to his right and found Warrick Dunn for a 36-yard completion. Consider the third-quarter drive when the Bucs offense overcame one holding penalty that negated a 10-yard run and another that negated a 27-yard touchdown and still managed to get the ball into the end zone.

Consider the crunching blow Garcia absorbed from Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards, which couldn't have come more than, say, 10 minutes after the play. That was the play that opened up Garcia's chin for "a few" stitches. Still, it did not knock him from the game.

Consider the two times Garcia ran for first downs on his own in the second half. Turns out, this is what the world's oldest cheetah looks like when he goes out for a sprint. Even Garcia's teammates get some yucks out of the way he plays the game. Ronde Barber calls it "erratic," and Davin Joseph calls it "sporadic." Dunn says he wants to see a computer graphic with white footprints showing everywhere Garcia runs. "The guy has happy feet," Dunn said, grinning. "He takes a thousand steps."

Said Gruden: "You don't know what he's seeing or what he's thinking." Said Joseph: "You don't know where he's going or what he's doing."

The thing is, everyone grins when they talk about Garcia. He gave some life to that, too. What better can a quarterback provide? "It's that fountain of youth I walk up to every single day trying to keep myself young," Garcia said. "These types of games definitely wear on you. You can't play like this every single weekend. There were opportunities for me to utilize my legs. That's something I used to do a lot more of in the past. It's nice to know I can still do that."

True, Garcia missed some plays, and yes, the Bucs missed some opportunities. But Garcia's energy seemed to offer hope to an offense that can use as much as it can get. "He's a creative player, and his legs are his ally," Gruden said. "I've tried to be honest with him the whole time. We need his legs. We need his scrambling ability and his elusiveness in the pocket."

Who knows how far Garcia has to run? He is 38, and he is in the last year of his contract. It is anybody's guess where he might be next season. For now, the guy has shown that he has a little life left. Turns out, the Bucs do, too.