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Bucs' Gruden benches Garcia; Griese to start

TAMPA — It wasn't the errant passes or his failure to see the field. It wasn't necessarily the phantom sprained ankle that did occur in the fourth quarter Sunday at New Orleans. It wasn't the strained right calf muscle or the jammed pinkie finger on his throwing hand.

There wasn't one reason why Jon Gruden called quarterback Jeff Garcia into his office Tuesday to tell him he was being benched against the Falcons on Sunday.

It's just that Garcia wasn't acting or playing like himself. The injuries prevented him from participating much in training camp and the preseason. And the relationship between Garcia and Gruden needs more time to heal.

So Garcia is out, and Brian Griese is in — perhaps for one game or maybe the season.

"He didn't like it," Gruden said Wednesday. "I know him. I know him as a man and as a player, and I really believe he needs to take a deep breath this week, get mentally and physically charged up, and come back and be the kind of quarterback he can be.

"I just want him to get right. People can say what they want, but I feel like I'm doing the right thing. The other thing, too, is that Brian is pretty damn good."

Garcia, 38, was unavailable for comment, ostensibly because he was receiving treatment on his sprained ankle and bruised ego. Though Garcia didn't play great in the Bucs' 24-20 overtime loss to the Saints — converting 2-of-12 third downs and ending the game with an interception — the defeat had many fathers.

Griese said he spoke candidly with Garcia, who was understandably upset about the benching. "You know, we had a frank conversation," Griese said. "Obviously, he's disappointed, and I understand … because I've been in that position. So there's a little bit of understanding between the two of us."

Garcia and Gruden bumped heads all offseason, first when the team failed to make up for a $1-million play-time incentive he lost while being ''rested'' last season, then when the Bucs attempted to trade for Brett Favre.

"It's been a very interesting last few months, obviously," Gruden said. "We've had an injury that occurred late last season. We had a prolonged calf injury. … I've studied everything (Garcia has) done. I really believe in this guy, this quarterback. And right now he's not the same guy that he was, and I want him to be that. That's all I'm going to say until I see the ball thrown with crisp, accurate velocity, the confident swagger. We're going to let him sit out a week, and hopefully he can get back, but at the same time, the football team has a game Sunday."

Griese, 33, helped the Bucs to a 5-1 start in 2005 before a season-ending knee injury. The team released him for salary cap reasons, and he signed with the Chicago the next offseason. He spent the past two seasons there until being traded back to Tampa Bay in March.

"When I left here in 2005, I had really unfinished business, the way I look at it," Griese said. "It really hurt when I was injured and didn't have a chance to come back. I knew we had a good team, and that stung. Ever since that point, I wanted the opportunity to come back and finish that business, and that's how I'm going to approach this, as a continuation of what I started and hopefully go out and play the best football I can play."

Griese has had success in the Bucs offense. He started 16 of 17 games he appeared in with Tampa Bay in 2004-05, passing for 3,768 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

"Honestly, I loved being here the first time I was here, everything from being in this system to being around the guys to being around the people in this organization to being in this town," Griese said. "I really loved every part of that. I'm just really excited and thankful that I'm back in this position, because a lot of times, you don't get back. Trust me when I say I won't take that for granted."

Gruden hasn't promised Griese the starting job beyond Sunday, but it's clear that if he beats the Falcons, he won't have to look over his shoulder pads.

"You know, life is all about making the most of your opportunities. Who are we kidding?" Gruden said. "We're very fortunate to have him."

Griese says he isn't focused on anything besides trying to beat the Falcons, especially because the Bucs cannot afford to fall to 0-2 overall and in the NFC South.

"We didn't play as well as we could've played last week at all positions," Griese said, "and I look at it as an opportunity to go out and get this thing back on track. Now, it's just one game, but I think this is a big game for us, and to think about anything else but that wouldn't do it justice."

Bucs' Gruden benches Garcia; Griese to start 09/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:29pm]
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