TAMPA — Quarterback is a position that is played above the neck, and nobody has won more head games than the Bucs' Brian Griese.
It's more than dealing with the Hall of Fame last name. Or having to replace a legend in Denver. His football smarts are off the charts, coach Jon Gruden said.
That's why the Bucs didn't want to risk losing Griese to another team again, so they slipped the Bears a sixth-round pick and paid the $300,000 roster bonus to bring him back to Tampa Bay.
''It's a system I feel very comfortable in," said Griese, 33, of the Bucs offense. "There is a lot of responsibility put on the quarterback's lap to get in and out of the right plays, so I take a lot of pride in that. I enjoy that part of it, so it works well for me."
How well? Put it this way: If the starting position was based on preseason performance alone, Griese would win the job over Jeff Garcia.
As it stands, he has probably done enough to secure the No. 2 spot over Luke McCown, 27, who has shown a great arm but poor decisionmaking.
Meanwhile, Griese directed a 17-play, 80-yard touchdown drive against the defending AFC champion Patriots (in which he went 8-for-8 passing). That was only slightly better than the 19-play, 78-yard march against the Dolphins. In three games, he is 26-for-35 for 174 yards and a touchdown.
"I like the way he plays," Gruden said. "I like his anticipation. I just like his clock. He plays with a great clock in his head.
"He understands the game. … He understands the running game, blocking schemes, pass protections. But he's also a good player. And statistically speaking, his rating, if that means anything, is as good as a lot of guys who have ever played."
Not that Griese wouldn't prefer to hit a few big plays rather than inch the offense along. "Every defense, no matter what it is, has a weakness to it," Griese said. "And I see it as my job to try and find that weakness in each one of those defenses. If that means going 17 plays, that's what it means. If it means going five plays, then that's what it means.
"I would love to do it in five plays, believe me."
But Griese's career has taught him patience. His first job was trying to succeed John Elway as the Broncos quarterback in 1999, the season after the team won back-to-back Super Bowls.
He later played with the Dolphins, who retired the uniform number of his father, Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese.
"He's been in some tough spots," Gruden said. "I've got a lot of confidence in him, and I know he has a lot of confidence in himself. That's something he doesn't lack. He knows he's good, and he's confident, and our team is confident in him, so that's exciting."
McCown, at times, creates a different kind of excitement. Although his preseason numbers are impressive (27-of-43 passing, 253 yards, two touchdowns), he made some bad decisions in a madcap two-minute drill against the Jaguars on Saturday night. Trailing by six, he checked the ball down twice, including on fourth down with no timeouts and five seconds remaining.
"He brought us back," Gruden said. "He made some great plays and an unbelievable scramble. He looked like Michael Vick running around there.
"But he checked the ball down once, we had to kill it and we lost time. We lost a down and we lost time. The last play of the game, I think you look away and give us a shot. What a great experience in the preseason."
Remember, the Bucs were 5-1 behind Griese in 2005, his second year with the team, when Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas rolled up on his knee, tearing his ACL. Griese was released by the Bucs in a cap-cutting move after the season and spent two mostly unproductive years with the Bears.
"But that's football, you know?" Griese said. "I went to Chicago, and being in Chicago made me appreciate being here.
"So I'm happy to be back and looking forward to getting out there."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]