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Garcia could miss Bucs' home opener

Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia hurt his ankle late Sunday.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia hurt his ankle late Sunday.

TAMPA — Jeff Garcia has a sprained ankle to add to his mounting list of injuries, possibly paving the way for a change of quarterbacks for Sunday's home opener against the Falcons.

Coach Jon Gruden said Garcia was injured late in the fourth quarter in the Bucs' 24-20 loss at New Orleans, but he did not specify which ankle was injured.

Already affected by a right calf strain that forced him to miss most of training camp and a jammed pinkie finger on his right throwing hand, Garcia cannot afford to miss any more practice time.

"He's got swelling on the ankle. He's going to be questionable," Gruden said of Garcia. "… Obviously, he's had the calf, the pinkie and he's now got an ankle. We'll just update you here the next couple of days what his status is.

"We'll make sure we get all of the information we need and do what gives our team a chance to get back to 1-1 and win our first football game."

If Garcia is unable to play, veteran Brian Griese likely would start. Luke McCown was the inactive third quarterback against the Saints.

Garcia, 38, struggled on third down Sunday (the Bucs were 2-of-12) and missed easy passes to receiver Joey Galloway and tight end Alex Smith. But twice he helped give the Bucs the lead in the second half, only to fall short when his fourth-down pass to Antonio Bryant was intercepted by Saints linebacker Scott Fujita at the New Orleans 21-yard line with 38 seconds left.

"Brian is ready to go, and I'm confident Luke is ready to go, if we choose to go in that direction," Gruden said. "We'll let you know."

Garcia isn't the only player the Bucs are worried about. Linebacker Derrick Brooks has a right hamstring strain, and receiver Maurice Stovall has a neck strain. Both players are questionable.

Brooks, 35, has not missed a game in his 14-year pro career due to injury. His absence was felt when Saints running back Reggie Bush took a pass in the flat and broke the tackles of reserve linebacker Matt McCoy and safety Jermaine Phillips on his way to the decisive 42-yard touchdown.

If Brooks can't play, Gruden said, the Bucs will consider moving Cato June to weakside linebacker and starting Quincy Black at strongside linebacker — moves that apparently eluded them Sunday.

"We have the capability of moving people around a little bit," Gruden said. "Let's see where Derrick is here in the next 24 hours and we'll put our contingency plan in place if need be."

Although the defense yielded three long touchdown passes, Gruden seemed to lay the blame for the loss at the feet of his veteran quarterback. But Garcia wasn't the only passer who missed the preseason that struggled Sunday.

"It wasn't just Jeff missing preseason games. He missed a lot of training camp; he missed a lot of work, period," Gruden said. "Looking at a lot of the quarterbacks that played yesterday that were inactive (during the preseason), I just pray Tom Brady is going to be okay; Peyton (Manning) played (Sunday) night after not being under center. I know (Matt) Hasselbeck has had issues with his back. It's a tough game. You can call it rust or inactivity or whatever it may be, but there are plays there that Jeff normally makes, and unfortunately, we just didn't get it done."

Garcia was not available for comment Monday. But several players were surprised to learn he had an ankle sprain.

"He walked off the field fine, walked out of the locker room fine," McCown said. "So I don't know anything."

Center Jeff Faine said he was unaware when Garcia got hurt. "Whenever it happened, he masked it pretty well because I didn't see it."

But more rest could mean more rust, and Garcia can't afford either.

"I don't know what rust is, really," Gruden said. "What can I say? I don't know what it is, really. New Orleans is a good football team. It's a loud, very difficult place to play in your opener. He just missed a couple throws he normally hits, and I've got to do a better job helping him."

Tickets available

Tickets are still available for Tampa Bay's home opener (4 p.m., Ch. 13) against the Falcons, but the Bucs expect to extend their streak of 88 consecutive sellouts. "We've still got a limited number of seats left, but we're confident it will be sold out," spokesman Jeff Kamis said. The Bucs have sold out every game since Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998, including playoffs. The final three regular-season games at Tampa Stadium were sellouts as well.

Garcia could miss Bucs' home opener 09/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 10:50am]

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