Late Sunday night, Jon Gruden whispered another call over the headset to Brad Johnson.
It was the old quarterback reverse.
Hours after benching Johnson in favor of Chris Simms in the team's 10-6 loss to Seattle, the Bucs coach telephoned the 13-year veteran to inform him he would start Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Raiders.
"All I can say about Brad Johnson is that he is a class act," Gruden said at his news conference Monday. "He has been around a long time. He understands why we made the change. I don't believe he'll agree with all of the reasons for us making the change. But I can only say he handled it with great class, and I truly expect him to come back this week, have a hell of a week of practice and find a way to get this ship right."
Neither Johnson nor Simms were available for comment.
Gruden said he went to Simms to provide the offense with a spark but he never intended to fire Johnson as the starting quarterback.
Simms, 24, led the Bucs to two field goals and generally made a successful debut. But his inexperience resulted in several mistakes, including two fumbles, one lost, and throwing a game-clinching interception with just more than a minute remaining in the game.
Simms will remain the No. 2 quarterback against the Raiders. But Gruden said he does not plan to have a quick hook with Johnson if the offense struggles. Tampa Bay, which has not scored an offensive touchdown this season, will try to avoid falling to 0-3 for the first time since 1996.
"Brad Johnson is a heck of a football player and a team man here. He's been victimized, I think, by a lot of circumstances," Gruden said. "The lineup has been a revolving door, and it's been difficult on him. His style and the way in which he plays, he's a very system-oriented quarterback. Hopefully, the experience some of these new players have gotten in the last couple of games will help them improve their performances as well."
Only three quarterbacks _ the Browns' Jeff Garcia, the Chiefs' Trent Green and the Bears' Rex Grossman _ have a lower passer-efficiency rating than Johnson's 55.4.
However, Gruden said, the Bucs' other offensive players need to rally around their Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
"The big thing is we've got to find a way to get something going," Gruden said. "Running, receiving, whatever it may be. A lot of times the quarterback gets too much credit, just like the head coaches do when you win. And sometimes you get too much credit when you don't. We made a change (Sunday) in a game to try and ignite our football team and maybe use a couple different types of plays, feature a little different series of offense.
"But Brad Johnson is Brad Johnson. He's got to play like Brad Johnson, very efficient with the football and make some plays along the way, which we think he can."
So why didn't Gruden want to continue riding the Bull after 15 plays Sunday? Call it a hunch.
Johnson managed to produce just two first downs and an interception that set up the Seahawks' only touchdown before being benched.
Simms, who had never taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game, fared a little better at times. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 175 yards. But he was sacked four times, fumbled a center exchange near the goal line, lost another fumble and was intercepted by rookie Michael Boulware at the Seahawks 15.
"I thought he showed great poise, and he shows great promise as a future player for our organization," Gruden said of Simms. "I thought he did show great confidence and delivered some sensational throws. But he made some mistakes, which I'm sure he'll address.
"Sometimes you're going to do things by feel, (by) the pulse of your team, (when) you're standing down there in the heat of the battle. Like all of us, we have to perform and get results. (Johnson) understands that. He's going to do a good job for us, and we just have to get the battle cry out to everybody on offense to help out and I'm confident we can do that."
What gives Gruden confidence the Bucs can still turn the season around? It's Tampa Bay's defense. Its 26 points allowed are tied for fourth fewest in the league.
It also limited the Seahawks to 1-of-14 on third-down conversions.
"If we can get it going on offense and I'm not the first coach to stand before you and say, "If we can get it going offensively, "' he said. "I'm not trying to have any fun with this at all. I have great confidence in this football team.
"It's unfortunate right now that we've gotten off to such a sluggish start offensively, but I'm counting on our defense to be outstanding. It might need to score for us. If that's what it takes for us to win because they sure have the potential to do it."