Errors Prove Costly
Brian Griese arrived at the Georgia Dome not knowing what to expect. Griese had not played since injuring his elbow against Denver in October. He had not been a full participant in practice until two weeks ago. And although Jeff Garcia's calf had been giving him problems, Griese was not expected to play against Atlanta on Sunday.
Garcia tested his calf before the game and was unable to play. Although backup quarterback Luke McCown took the majority of first-team reps during practice last week, Bucs coach Jon Gruden unexpectedly decided to start Griese instead.
Being led by a quarterback who was coming off an injury, and few practice reps, Tampa Bay's offense understandably struggled with Griese as its leader, contributing to its 13-10 overtime loss against Atlanta.
"We thought all along Jeff had a chance to play. More than a reasonable chance," Gruden said. "Unfortunately, he wasn't able to go Sunday. We went with Brian. Brian had played earlier in the season against Atlanta. It's hard to swallow not to have your quarterback."
Gruden's decision was made because the alternative was even harder to swallow. Garcia said there was a possibility playing on his injured calf could have ended his season, and even worse for him, risked his playing career.
"I think we would have taken a chance of making it worse and probably ending the season if I would have tried to go," Garcia said. "I just didn't have any straight-ahead movement. We went out, I worked out and I tried to give it time to warm up and prepare for the situation. I could do my job. I could move a little bit within the pocket, but I had nothing else."
Garcia was unsure if he will play Sunday against San Diego, but whoever is under center has the difficult task of improving the Bucs offense. Against the Falcons, Tampa Bay was three of 14 on third-down conversions, gave up four sacks for 43 yards and failed to score a touchdown in its only red-zone visit. "We didn't win the game and that's really how I judge quarterbacks in the league, whether you win or lose," Griese said. "We didn't make enough plays."
The biggest difference was Tampa Bay's offensive woes near the end of regulation. Tampa Bay trailed 10-7 when Brian Clark blocked Michael Koenen's punt and Sabby Piscitelli recovered on Atlanta's 22-yard line with 2:37 remaining. Griese completed a pass to Michael Clayton to put the ball at the 12, and Cadillac Williams moved the ball to the 9 on a 3-yard run.
Tampa Bay, which has one of the NFL's worst red-zone offenses, then went backward. Griese was sacked by John Abraham for an 11-yard loss, putting Tampa Bay into a third-and-18. Then, offensive lineman Arron Sears was called for holding to make it third-and-28 from the 30. Warrick Dunn ran 10 yards and Tampa Bay settled for Matt Bryant's 38-yard field goal, which tied the score at 10.
"We really would have liked to have finished the game right there," Griese said. "We went backwards when we got inside the 10-yard line. We went backwards with some penalties and that's not the way we want to finish the game. We want to score touchdowns."
If Griese plays Sunday, he knows what to expect.
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 15 December 2008