Quarterback Brad Johnson was front and under center again Wednesday, preparing to start against the Oakland Raiders.
Having been benched after just four series in his last game, Johnson is hoping for a little more time in the pocket.
From his coach.
"As far as me, I probably felt the trigger was a little fast," Johnson said of Jon Gruden's decision to replace him with second-year pro Chris Simms in the second quarter of Sunday's 10-6 loss to Seattle.
"But under those circumstances, you kind of have to deal with them. And at that time, I was going to stay positive and kind of let the focus be on Chris. Kind of be in his ear and kind of help him out as much as possible. I thought he played a solid ballgame under those circumstances, and it was unfortunate we didn't come through."
Simms believes Johnson was unaware he was out of the game until he saw Simms warming up.
"When they told me I was in, I don't know if (Brad) was told at first that he was not going to be in. He was like, "Are you going?' And I was like, "Yeah. They told me to get ready.' "
Despite being removed from a game for the first time in his Bucs career, Johnson remained unshaken.
"It's unfortunate where we are, but we've dug ourselves a hole and we'll find ourselves out of it as a group. I believe in the coaches, I believe in the system, I believe in the players."
What Johnson doesn't believe, nor Gruden for that matter, is that the quarterback position has been solely responsible for the Bucs' failure to score an offensive touchdown this season.
There's no debating Johnson's production has suffered. His 55.4 passer efficiency rating is third worst among NFL starters, and his 4.61 yards per attempt is more than 2 yards fewer than his career average.
But a leaky offensive line, and some creaky receivers who haven't beaten man coverage, have made the Super Bowl-winning quarterback look indecisive.
"People are going to talk about it between now and the end of time," Gruden said. "That's what happens when you pull that kind of thing.
"Brad is a great quarterback. He's a great system quarterback. We've got to play better system football for him to truly be a great quarterback again. I'm not knocking anything he does. He's outstanding at what he does. We've got to help him out as play-callers, as coaches, as tight ends, wideouts, running backs. We've all got to do better."
Johnson was pulled after he threw an interception late in the first quarter that set up the Seahawks' only touchdown. But it wasn't a poor throw that resulted in the pick. Receiver Charles Lee was supposed to run a deep route to clear out the zone underneath for Michael Clayton. But cornerback Marcus Trufant, who was supposed to follow Lee downfield, didn't respect the deep route, came off his man and made the interception of a pass Johnson is taught to throw to an open spot.
Johnson was asked to assess his performance in the first two games.
"Well, I think it's all of us, it's not just me," Johnson said. "It's a "we' deal. I think we've had one play every drive that either put us in bad situations, the second-and-10, the third-and-long kind of deals. So obviously, we have not performed well as an offense and the quarterback kind of gets a lot of the blame as far as things go, especially around here. You learn to deal with it; it's nothing I haven't had to deal with before."
Perhaps, but Johnson hasn't had to deal with it in Tampa Bay. The last time he was kept out of the lineup was in Washington in 2000 for Jeff George. Coincidentally, the Redskins coach at the time was current Raiders coach Norv Turner, who faces Johnson and the Bucs on Sunday night.
"That's one story line that people missed on this and I know there's a lot of good ones," Turner said. "But I spent two years with Brad, and Brad was the quarterback for me when we won the division, and he broke a number of Redskins passing records and won us a playoff game.
"He's a warrior. He's been through so many of those types of situations. He came up the hard way, which toughens you. I know what we'll get from Brad. We'll get his best."
Johnson can only produce, however, if he gets better play from his offensive line, which faces a Raiders defense that is tied for the NFL lead with nine sacks, including seven Sunday against Buffalo. But don't expect any lineup changes for the Bucs.
"I don't feel any changes are merited at this time," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "I would say honestly as I look at it, there isn't an isolated individual. I don't know if sporadic is the right word, but it's been spotty and it's been more individual breakdown than it has been system.
"Obviously, sometimes people do get beat in this business because they're blocking better people. But I don't believe that's the case at this particular time."
That doesn't mean that Muir won't make substitutions if necessary.
"I'll put Attila the Hun in if I can get a first down. If the situation merits, absolutely. Do I schematically have a plan right now? To share that with you would be to share my plans with the Oakland Raiders."
So far, Gruden's game plans have not produced many points. He, too, has to be better.
"Maybe we've got to call some plays that get bigger play potential," Gruden said. "I've got to be critical of myself, and at the same time, we've had some chances to make some plays. When you look at the film, there's six or seven opportunities where you say, "Damn. We're close. Let's not pull the panic plug here, let's just keep playing and stay in rhythm in terms of what we're doing.' We're seeing some pretty good opponents right now who are applying a lot of heat and making it tough on us."