NEW ORLEANS — One game in, and it appears only one thing stands between the Bucs and the playoffs.
That's right: Rust-Oleum.
For the Bucs, it is time to buy the stuff by the vat. It is time to have a dozen trainers working around the clock, rubbing it into Jeff Garcia's clanking right shoulder. It is time for a little spit, a little polish and copious amounts of lubrication.
Because if opening day was any indication, the Bucs offense is going to look a lot like a junkyard washing machine.
Did you get a load of Rusty Garcia and the Cobwebbed Crusaders in Tampa Bay's 24-20 loss to the Saints on Sunday? They sputtered. They spewed. They spent a lot of time turning third downs into fourth downs.
Look, it wasn't so much that the Bucs lost. It happens. The math experts among us love to point out that half of the teams in the NFL lost their openers and that, really, did anyone expect Tampa Bay to go undefeated?
What was surprising, however, was that the best part of last year's Bucs team — the ever-plucky Garcia — struggled so mightily. You remember, don't you? Garcia would bob and weave through the rush, and he would flick a pass so accurate it was like throwing darts into hummingbirds, and just like that, the players around him looked better.
Not Sunday. Sunday, he looked like a quarterback who had spent too long in the deep freezer. He seemed jerky, out of rhythm. He threw behind receivers. He threw at the feet of receivers. The parts of him that didn't look like rust looked like cobwebs.
"I didn't play good enough, especially in the first half," Garcia said. "I know I'm capable of so much better as a quarterback and as a leader of this team. I know that in order for this team to be more successful, I need to be better at the beginning.
"I put that on myself. I'm always going to be hard on myself and very critical. There are things I need to correct and correct in a hurry."
There are, of course, reasons that he didn't play well. Injuries kept him out of most of training camp, and he played in only one preseason game. And, yes, even 38-year-old quarterbacks need practice.
And yet, the Bucs spent much of the postgame avoiding the suggestions of rust, as if perhaps it could somehow be construed as an excuse. (No, it can't.)
If you are the Bucs, however, don't you want Garcia's problems, don't you need Garcia's problems, to be rust? After all, what are the alternatives? Age? Inability? Lingering feelings over the Brett Favre flirtation?
Right about now, the Bucs need to embrace the rust. They need to have Garcia do a Jiffy Lube commercial while dressed as the Tin Man. They need to have him hum the words to Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps.
Why? Because rust can be removed.
Coach Jon Gruden admitted the inactivity had an effect.
"I think that's the way a coach or a traditionalist looks at it," Gruden said. "When you're inactive, it doesn't help you."
Judging from the first three quarters, there seems to be a lot of it there. Consider third down. Going into the final quarter, the Bucs were 0-for-8 on third downs. That includes Garcia completing 2 of 6 passes on those downs, and the two completions were underneath gimmes that ended up a combined 22 yards from first downs. He missed Joey Galloway on a crossing pattern. He threw at Alex Smith's feet. Garcia completed two dozen passes, but only one went for as many as 20 yards.
To be fair, Garcia was much better in the final quarter, working underneath and looking more comfortable in the pocket. Still, Garcia blamed himself for his final pass — an interception when the Bucs had fourth and 6 at the Saints 24 with 38 seconds to play.
"The major thing for me is I lost track of where the linebacker was," Garcia said. "I knew we had to get 7 yards, and I think it would have been close. Unfortunately, I didn't make the right decision. If I had it all to do over again, I probably would have gone outside."
For a quarterback, this is the way the world works. If it is a criticism that people point out that Garcia didn't make the big play, it is a compliment that people expected him to do so. Either way, Garcia has to be better if the offense is going to be.
The thing is, Garcia swears this offense is going to be good. Perhaps. Still, it would be good to see. All he has to do is knock off the cobwebs and get the engine running.
One game down. There is still plenty of time for the quarterback to remove a little rust and restore a little trust.