TAMPA — You figured there would be some rust on Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia. Possibly a few cobwebs. But there also were barnacles. And furthermore, mold.
Garcia had not played in a game or even practiced much since straining his right calf during a noncontact drill July 31.
He made his preseason debut in Saturday's 23-17 loss to the Jaguars. To say Garcia needs a little more practice is putting it mildly.
Garcia, 38, sprayed passes all over the field. He threw footballs too high. Too low. Too hard. Too soft. He threw them overhand and underhanded. His passes went behind receivers and in front of them.
One pass was floated too high to Maurice Stovall and intercepted by Reggie Nelson. He underthrew Michael Clayton in the back of the end zone. And Nelson looked like the intended receiver again, recording another interception.
Three of the Bucs' first four possessions ended in turnovers, including a fumble by Earnest Graham on the first.
"It was a tough start," Garcia said. "There is a lot of rust I have to shake off. Having not had the other two preseason games as warmups or much practice, it just showed."
But the Bucs were determined to end Garcia's night on a high note.
Following an interception by Ronde Barber, Garcia drove the Bucs 43 yards in nine plays for a score. He converted on third down with completions to Ike Hilliard and Clayton. Then on third and 6 from the Jacksonville 10, he threaded a pass to Clayton between Nelson and cornerback Drayton Florence for a touchdown.
"I'm glad coach (Jon) Gruden gave me the opportunity to stay in there and continue to compete. And thankfully, we put a drive together and finished it off well," Garcia said. "I think I made two very poor decisions, which is very unlike me. And I think it shows that I haven't practiced a lot and haven't played at all. Those are things I needed to get out of my system."
Garcia finished 11-of-18 for 79 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions before being replaced by Brian Griese late in the second quarter.
"Things were just a little fast for me," Garcia said. "I thought a little bit too much about things. It'll get more natural with more practice reps.
"I think you get into a situation where you haven't played, you expect a lot out of yourself. You expect to go out there and prove to your teammates. I wanted to do some good things. I think I did push, and I did force the issue a couple times. Unfortunately, I got burned for it. But it's not indicative of how I play."
Garcia doesn't figure to play much in the final preseason game, Thursday at Houston. So Saturday's extended playing time might have to satisfy him until the season opener at New Orleans on Sept. 7.
If Gruden is worried about the amount of rust on his starting quarterback, he didn't show it. A year ago, Garcia threw just four interceptions, so the errant passes can be chalked up to his inactivity, Gruden said.
"I'm not going to be a basket case," Gruden said. "He threw one … on a naked bootleg and tried to jam it in there. He never does that. He'll be fine."
Though Garcia was back, the Bucs were without several starters on offense again, including receiver Joey Galloway (groin), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle) and right guard Davin Joseph (broken foot). But that was hardly a reason for Garcia's early ineffectiveness.
His first series was torpedoed by Graham's fumble, the Bucs' first turnover this preseason. (Luke McCown threw a fourth-quarter interception to make it four against the Jags alone.)
Then Garcia made a bad decision on a rollout to float the ball to Stovall. The pass was late, and Nelson easily read it for the interception. Garcia was late trying to hit Clayton in the back of the end zone, and he didn't get enough air under the football to prevent Nelson from making a leaping pick.
"I just need more practice," Garcia said. "I've only practiced really one week. I just need more reps in practice, and I'll get those."
And, he hopes, knock off more rust.