TAMPA — Every game is crunch time for quarterback Jeff Garcia.
His 38-year-old body is beaten, battered and bruised from all the collisions he absorbs as the ramblin', scramblin' leader of the Bucs.
It happened last season, when a back injury forced Garcia to miss all or parts of four games before returning for the wild-card playoff game. And on Wednesday, during a noncontact drill, Garcia felt pain in his right calf — the same one that forced him to miss most of training camp and the preseason.
Ultimately, it led to Garcia being benched after a season-opening loss at New Orleans.
The Bucs won't reveal whether Garcia will start today at Atlanta until just before kickoff. He was mostly a bystander at practice last week while Luke McCown took most of the first-team reps.
For that matter, coach Jon Gruden wouldn't even confirm that McCown would replace Garcia. But until a few weeks ago, Brian Griese couldn't break a pane of glass with a football because of tendonitis in his right elbow.
The problem is that McCown hasn't taken a snap that mattered since December 2007 — he started and won at New Orleans, after completing his first 15 passes. McCown, 27, went 29-of-37 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in leading the Bucs to a 27-23 win that essentially wrapped up the NFC South.
The best guess is that Garcia will test his leg before today's game and try to play. But expect to see McCown at some point.
The Bucs still don't know much about McCown, who will be a free agent next season. But the fact that he has mostly remained a backup in four seasons speaks volumes.
Only Griese and rookie Josh Johnson are signed for next season. A guess: Garcia will hit the road unless no team shows interest.
Gruden loves to collect quarterbacks. But at some point, he needs to find a player young enough to go wire to wire.
Hey, it's never too early to imagine Gruden's Christmas quarterback wish list:
Fell out of favor this season with coach Andy Reid, who benched him during a poor performance against Baltimore. If the Eagles go with Kevin Kolb, a second-year pro from Houston, McNabb could be on the trading block. McNabb, 32, comes with an enormous salary, and the Eagles don't want to give him away. But he is a proven winner who has taken his team to four NFC title games and a Super Bowl. The Vikings and Bears would be big suitors, too.
Signed through the 2010 season, Anderson lost his job in Cleveland to first-round pick Brady Quinn. Anderson, 25, who suffered a torn MCL in relief of an injured Quinn on Nov. 30 against the Colts, was 10-5 in games he started in 2007, throwing 29 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. Anderson has a big arm and a bright future. But high draft picks would be involved with any trade.
Don't snicker. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for financing a dogfighting ring and could possibly be released and reinstated by the NFL in time for next season. He'll be 29 in June. Nobody knows what kind of shape he will be in, and his considerable skills are certain to erode behind bars. But Gruden referred to the former Falcons quarterback as "Starship 7" for his galactic talents. Not exactly an accurate passer, but is there any question that Gruden won't be intrigued?