JR: Jeff Garcia has been sent to the bench, and Joey Galloway has been sent to the doctor. A year ago, that would have caused unrestrained panic. Tell me, Gary, how are you feeling about the Bucs offense these days?
GS: I feel like it's all the way up to "better than Atlanta." I need more evidence before I think it will be higher than 25th in the league.
JR: Higher than 25th? You're shooting for the stars, aren't you? To me, the big test will come when teams decide they are going to take away Tampa Bay's running game and force Brian Griese to beat them with his collection of retread receivers.
GS: True, the traction will get tougher. Even the Falcons were able to do that before realizing they were the Falcons. The Bears defense will be tougher, don't you think?
JR: If you're talking about talent, then yes. If you're talking about coaching, then heck yes. How would you attack the Bears, knowing you're bringing a butter knife to a gunfight?
GS: I'd keep two words in mind. "Kyle" and "Orton." I think I would resign myself to realizing it's going to be a low-scoring game, and I would play defense and field position. What would you do? Go to the wishbone?
JR: The wishbone may be too flashy. I would try the Wing-T. Or the wing nut.
GS: Throughout the history of the Bucs, the Bears have always been a good litmus test. But after seeing them in the Super Bowl two years ago, does it hit you how quickly they got to mediocrity?
JR: Let's see, they went from the Super Bowl to 7-9. I would say that's a remarkable slide, except we know how easily it can be done. And we've got the DVD of Tampa Bay's 2003 season to prove it.
GS: Yeah. Listen to Bears fans, and you'll hear about how long the franchise has looked for a quarterback, and about the inconsistencies of the offense, and about how wrong it was to turn loose of Thomas Jones. To me, it sounds like someone has been reading Jon Gruden's mail
JR: Just so long as they don't get into Monte Kiffin's letters. Based on what you've seen the past two weeks, how good can this Bucs defense be? I'm impressed with the secondary, I've got faith in the linebackers, but I'm not yet sold on the defensive linemen.
GS: To be fair, I'd bet they aren't sold on you, either. Seriously, the pass rush needs to be fiercer, but they've done well against the run. That's going to be the most important thing today against Matt Forte, don't you think? That, and convincing Lovie Smith to please, pretty please, give Rex Grossman one more chance.
JR: So now you've dissed Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman in the same conversation. How long before you trash Jim McMahon?
GS: I'll get to him right after I trash Cade McNown and Rick Mirer. The Bears know linebackers. Quarterbacks? Chicago has only heard rumors.
JR: Damn you, Shelton, I will not have you disrespecting Mike Tomczak.
GS: On the other hand, we've seen great quarterbacks in Tampa. There was Doug Williams, and for about 15 minutes, there was Brad Johnson. After that, there was Trent Dilfer and Casey Weldon fighting on a putting green. And even then, they couldn't hit anybody.
JR: May I remind you that in 32 years of football, the Bucs have had three Pro Bowl quarterbacks. And one of them is sitting on the bench. Will it take a Griese injury before we see Garcia again?
GS: Not necessarily. A bad performance could always persuade Gruden to make another change. And as distasteful as it may sound to see an in-and-out situation with Griese and Garcia, you can take heart. At least neither one of them is Gus Frerotte.
This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton: