TAMPA — It all seems so familiar.
The quarterback with the mild injury. The team coming off a tough road loss. The unspectacular offensive performance.
When last we saw this scenario, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia was benched and Brian Griese promoted to starter. Now, with Griese sustaining an elbow injury on his right (throwing) arm against the Broncos on Sunday, coach Jon Gruden is noncommittal about who will start the next game — just as he was after Garcia's bland performance in a Week 1 loss at New Orleans.
Gruden will again have a chance to make a quarterback change if he deems it necessary. And, once again, he can attribute such a move to injury.
He said Monday that no decision has been reached on who will start Sunday's division game against the Panthers, who sit atop the NFC South at 4-1. But, from all indications, the chances of Garcia starting have increased exponentially.
"We're going to address the quarterback situation as soon as we get all the facts," Gruden said. "Obviously health is going to be an issue. I thought Jeff did some good things. His health has been an issue. His return to health is something we're excited about."
Asked specifically whether Griese will remain the starter if healthy, Gruden did not maintain his somewhat puzzling public stance of unmitigated support for Griese — support that hadn't waned even as the veteran threw a combined six interceptions in the two games leading up to Sunday's 16-13 loss at Denver.
Instead, Gruden offered something of a non-answer: "We feel like we've got two veteran quarterbacks. Both guys can win for us. Right now, we're concerned about Griese's arm, and we're encouraged by Jeff's progress."
Meanwhile, Garcia appears to have finally worked through his "issues," to borrow a term from Gruden.
"It's been difficult," Gruden said of Garcia. "He was a big part of our team last season. He missed the entire training camp. … He's had the calf injury, the ankle injury, the pinkie injury, and it's hurt him. … I thought he went in late in (Sunday's) game and moved around and made some plays that we're accustomed to seeing. That's good. I think he does feel better."
Garcia scrambled to replace Griese when the latter was decked by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey on a delayed blitz in the third quarter. Bailey's helmet struck Griese's right arm just as he released a pass near his own end zone, and the extensive swelling that ensued made gripping the ball difficult. Gruden called Griese questionable for the game against Carolina.
Garcia had only slightly more success, though he led a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive during which the Bucs offense finally showed a pulse.
But mostly, Garcia had the same results as Griese: short, safe passes for minimal gains, the result of Denver using deep zone coverage and not the man-to-man coverage the Bucs expected. Thus, the Bucs' 4.3 yards per pass attempt continued a seasonlong trend. Tampa Bay ranks 28th in the NFL with 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Only the Bengals, Chiefs and Browns are worse.
"I'd like to throw for more yards per attempt," Gruden said. "Again, I'm happy with moving the football and converting third downs and scoring points. Against that defense (Sunday), you're going to have to complete the pass and then get some yardage after the catch against a loaded zone defense. We missed some opportunities in the last couple weeks."
Ruud hurting: Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud sustained a knee injury against Denver, leaving him questionable for Carolina, Gruden said. Ruud was adamant after the game that he would play Sunday.
Times staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.