TAMPA — He did not fill the screen with highlight plays. Fact is, Brian Griese probably missed more open receivers this week than Jeff Garcia missed the week before.
He did not give analysts reason to write sonnets in his name. The further the game went along, the more content Griese was to stay out of the starring role.
He was not sensational, and he was not exciting, and when his day was finished, the Hall of Fame did not call to request his wristbands.
On the other hand, Griese won the game. That's all.
All things considered, said Bucs coach Jon Gruden, that was enough.
Griese, the once and future quarterback of the Bucs, spent most of Sunday afternoon managing a football game. In particular, he managed not to throw an interception, and he managed not to lose a game, and he managed to keep his starting job.
And when you think about it, what company can't use a little better management?
This is Griese's strength. In his finest moments, Griese can steer the boat, and he can avoid the rocks. He will rarely dazzle you, and he will not take your breath away. On the other hand, he can orchestrate a game plan, and he can keep the offensive rhythm humming. It is why Gruden decided to start Griese this week, and it is why he will do the same next week against the Bears.
"I foresee him starting again," Gruden said. Of course he does. There may have been controversy last week when Gruden benched Garcia, but there shouldn't be this time.
A coach doesn't bench a quarterback after a win to return to a guy he benched the week before. It's like a professional version of make it, take it. You win the game, you keep the job. How else are you going to sell it to a locker room?
A half-hour after the game, Griese sat at his locker still wearing his football pants and his cleats. Someone suggested that his probably wouldn't be the featured highlight on ESPN.
"I don't care," Griese said, grinning. "I've played in this league long enough that I don't care about 300-yard games, and I don't care about making the Pro Bowl. I just want to win football games.
"I think it's the right time for me here."
If you look at Sunday's game, that shows. Griese threw 10 passes in the first quarter and 12 in the second. Once the Bucs had a two-touchdown lead, however, the air went out of the football. Griese threw only six times in the third quarter, only three in the fourth.
"I'm not going to say a lot about what he did," Gruden said. "I'll say what he didn't do. He didn't turn the ball over other than the time he was sacked from the blind side in the red zone. He knew it was his first start. He knew we had the lead. He knew the No. 1 objective was to protect the football. He made some good decisions in the running game that allowed some of those runs to happen. He's a smart guy."
To be honest, no, Griese didn't slam the door on the who-should-be-the-quarterback debate. On his first throw of the day, for instance, he missed a wide open Alex Smith just short of the goal line. A little later, he missed Antonio Bryant open down the right sideline. He overthrew Joey Galloway, and he missed a wide open Ike Hilliard in the third quarter.
Yeah, Griese had a little rust of his own. And yeah, on days when the Bucs aren't playing a Falcons team with a rookie passer who had those eyes that come straight from the taxidermist, the quarterback play is going to have to be a lot better.
Still, there were reasons to take heart. Consider the third-down situations in the early going. On the Bucs' first six third downs, Griese was 6-of-6 passing and picked up the first down on five of them. He hit Galloway for 12 yards on third and 10. He hit Hilliard for 13 on third and 13. He hit Hilliard for 9 on third and 9. He hit Hilliard for 11 on third and 4. He hit Warrick Dunn for 12 yards on third and 10.
Could Garcia have won this game? Sure. When the Bucs defense is playing the way it played Sunday, any quarterback on the roster — including rookie Josh Johnson — can win.
Ah, but what about the days when the defense isn't terrific and the running game struggles. What about then?
"You want to have an attitude," Griese said. "We don't want to be second-class citizens to anybody. I love our defense till the end of the day, but on offense, we have to have an attitude that we're going to go out and win games, not just be around and score when the defense gets a turnover. That's an attitude we need to have to be successful."
Griese gets another shot to show it next week against his old Chicago teammates.
In a bottom-line league, that's the way it works. Win and you get to grin. And Bear it.