A Painful Start
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 September 2007

They'll wake up today tired and sore and wishing they could just go back to the tee box and start over. Oh, what the Bucs would give for a mulligan right now.

Given such a gift, though, they wouldn't rewind only to Sunday's season opener, which ended in a 20-6 defeat to the Seahawks. Given that prize, the Bucs assuredly would go all the way back to Celebration and the start of training camp.

It's been one thing after another since they checked into the hotel there this year, and the seemingly endless run of misery only continued at Qwest Field. A team that already has lost fullback Mike Alstott to a neck injury and could lose tight end Jerramy Stevens to a jail sentence and NFL suspension now appears to have lost running back Cadillac Williams, at least for a while, to a rib injury.

And that's not all. Brian Kelly, the starting cornerback who missed most of last year with a turf toe injury, also could miss time with what he fears is a torn muscle in his right groin. And then there's receiver David Boston, the comeback kid who faces a DUI charge. He hurt his foot warming up for Sunday's game and there's no telling when - or if - he'll be back on the field.

The good news is that quarterback Jeff Garcia appears to be OK. That's very comforting, especially when you consider he conjured memories of Chris Simms when he took a knee and left the game after taking a hit in third quarter.

'I just got my bell rung,' said Garcia, who was hit by linebackers Leroy Hill and Julian Peterson while he was scrambling away from pressure. 'I took a shot to the head, and I was a little wobbly, a little disoriented. 'I was going to try to walk it off, but I wasn't right, and I needed to take a knee. But it's hard to stay out of the fight. I'm one of those guys who wants to be in there contributing.'

It wasn't long before Garcia was in there contributing again. By the time he returned, though, the Seahawks had tacked 10 points onto a 10-6 lead and it was too late to make much of a difference. The Bucs realized as much and pulled Garcia for their final series one possession later. But Garcia should be ready to go Sunday when the Bucs host the Saints.

Whether Williams will be able to go is unknown. He slipped out of the locker room before reporters could speak to him Sunday and the Bucs didn't provide much detail regarding his injury. 'We don't know the severity of it yet,' Jon Gruden said. 'But losing your starting tailback, losing your starting quarterback in a 10-6 game is tough - very tough.'

Knocking Garcia out of the game was just what the Seattle defense needed, since the unit found the Bucs tougher to deal with than expected. 'Once Garcia was out of the game, it became a lot easier for us,' Peterson said. 'When Garcia went out we were like, 'Oh, yeah, this is easy. This is like money in the bank right here.''

The Seahawks did make it look rather easy after Garcia left. With Luke McCown in his place and Earnest Graham taking over for Williams, the Bucs banked just 19 total yards of offense during their next two possessions. As soon as Garcia came back, though, the yards started piling up again. The Bucs gained 51 on their next-to-last series, which ended with Graham fumbling the ball away at the Seattle 8-yard line.

Apart from the fumble, the series was reminiscent of the kind the Bucs put together during the first half, when they gained 193 yards, including 139 in the first quarter, and looked like a team poised to stage an upset. It was, in fact, a sign of improvement over last year, when the Bucs gained just 142 yards during the season finale against Seattle. But some things never seem to change, and cashing in on those yards still proved difficult.

Though they reached the red zone on two of their first three drives, the Garcia-led offense came away with nothing more than two field goals. 'We knew they were going to be stingy inside the red zone,' Garcia said. 'That wasn't any secret. But we need to do a better job than that. We need to find a way to put touchdowns on the board.'

Starting a drive beyond their 20-yard line would probably help. During one stretch, the Bucs started five of six drives inside their 17. All but one ended with the Bucs punting. 'Field position was horrific, hard to come by today,' Gruden said. 'I don't know how but six, seven, eight in a row started deep inside our own 15-yard line and that's hard duty.'

Penalties were a major contributor to the field-position problem. On two occasions, a Bucs penalty erased a lengthy punt return, forcing Tampa Bay to start a drive deep in its territory. But eliminating those penalties will only do so much for the offense. To get the maximum out of drives, the Bucs are also going to need to get better play out of Garcia.

Gruden and Garcia agreed that the veteran quarterback, who was making his first start for the Bucs, didn't do a good enough job of letting plays develop, especially when he was backed up near his end zone. 'I think I was over-thinking at times and coming off too soon in situations where I need to give plays a chance,' Garcia said. 'But that's part of the learning process that I'm going through right now. Those are things I'm going to be better at. I need to allow things to materialize and not be so quick in making decisions. So, I already know where I can improve, and I'm going to improve.'

The Bucs figure to improve as well. After what they've been through the past couple months, almost anything would constitute an improvement.