Weather Can't Keep Garcia Down
This was no afternoon for slingin' in the rain, and although Jeff Garcia's passing stats suffered, he attained the number he wanted most. Victory No. 9.
Garcia entered Sunday's game against New Orleans as the league's fifth-rated passer, with a 69.8 completion percentage that ranked second to Brett Favre, but soggy conditions limited his effectiveness in Tampa Bay's 23-20 triumph. "It wasn't happening as easily through the air today," Garcia said after completing only nine of 23 passes for 119 yards and suffering four sacks.
With Bucs receivers slipping and Garcia having difficulty grasping a wet football, Coach Jon Gruden turned to a ground game that produced 149 yards, including 42 by Garcia. That's the kind of hidden yardage Gruden and Bucs fans were unaccustomed to until Garcia arrived in 2007.
"Jeff got the job done today - and that's the bottom line," center Jeff Faine said. "It's the competitive edge he brings to the field each week. I keep telling him to slide more on those scrambles, but he's not listening. I love how he plays the game ... but we need him all the way."
For only the eighth time in 157 NFL games, Ike Hilliard didn't catch a pass, but Antonio Bryant hauled in a 39-yard scoring reception that opened a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter. While Drew Brees was picked off three times, the Saints failed to register a takeaway against Garcia, who ranks third all-time in lowest interception rate. "Jeff makes plays when he has to and he doesn't turn the ball over," tight end Jerramy Stevens said. "That was big today because, let's face it, that was an ugly football game."
At one point, Garcia donned a glove on his passing hand to maximize his grip, but the experiment didn't last long. Neither did Tampa Bay's 10-point lead in the fourth quarter as the Saints forged a 20-20 tie.
Garcia and Michael Clayton hooked up for 26 yards to cross midfield, and Josh Bidwell eventually punted out of bounds at the Saints 7 before Jermaine Phillips picked off Brees, setting up Matt Bryant's winning field goal. "We can't say enough about our defense here because they just have played outstanding football," said Garcia, who was benched after a poor outing in the opener at New Orleans.
The Bucs celebrated Gruden's 100th NFL win and Garcia improved to 6-1 since regaining his starting job. "Some guys play football and some guys run plays," Antonio Bryant said. "Jeff Garcia plays football."
Ira Kaufman,The Tampa Tribune 1 December 2008