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Time for a change?

For the sake of the team, it is time.

For the sake of the season, it is time.

For the sake of the narcoleptics out there who fear they may lapse into a coma if they watch any more, it is time.

Above all, for the sake of the kid quarterback's mental health, it is time for Jon Gruden to signal to the bullpen.

In a season that has turned into a sinking ship, it is time for the Rat.

He will not cure the sick, and he will not raise the dead. Nonetheless, it is time that double-secret-emergency-backup quarterback Tim Rattay dusted off his arm and took a turn running the huddle. It is time for the Bucs to look to another quarterback and, if need be, a quarterback beyond him.

Nine starts in, and we have seen enough of Bruce Gradkowski to know we do not wish to see any more for a while. Perhaps there still is a future for Gradkowski, but he has used up his allotment of the present. He is a young man thrust into a stormy sea before he has learned how to swim, and if his team does not get him out of the water soon, he may be lost.

Poor Gradkowski. The kid struggled mightily in Sunday's homecoming game against his Steelers, throwing three interceptions, taking five sacks and, once again, leading his team to zero touchdowns. Gradkowski had a rating of 35.3, following that nifty 29.3 grade against Dallas. In nine starts, Gradkowski has led his offense to only 11 touchdowns.

Those are the numbers of a quarterback not ready for the task that has been asked of him. His turnovers are coming more frequently (one interception in his first five starts; eight in his last four). He struggles with the long ball. As much as we all love to criticize the offensive line, most of his sacks Sunday were his fault.

However much you blame Gradkowski, however much you blame his teammates or his plays or his coaches, it is time someone threw him a life preserver. Let him watch for a while. At this point, Gruden should be concerned that Gradkowski's confidence is shredded.

"I'm worried about every part of Bruce Gradkowski's life," Gruden said. "He's been through a lot the last few weeks: Monday night at Carolina, Thanksgiving Day against Dallas, and (Sunday) against the defending world champions in his home town. I would say that's about as tough an order as you can ask any man to do."

Now, it may surprise you a bit to hear someone call for Rattay. Frankly, it shocks the dickens out of me, too. Since Rattay arrived in town last year, it has been an open question as to just how badly a season would have to unravel before the Bucs turned to Rattay.

When a losing record is assured, when the offensive playbook has been lost, when the team has become a work in regress, it seems about ... now.

Gruden, too, seems to sense it. For 10 weeks, he has shown more patience with Gradkowski than any of his Tampa Bay quarterbacks. Others saw Gradkowski's limited arm strength or his missed opportunities. Gruden saw something else, something promising.

"There is a lot happening for our young quarterback," Gruden said. "It's pretty ambitious what we're asking him to do. We'll put our heads together on the flight home and see what our next step is."

Asked if he was considering making a change at quarterback, Gruden said, "I don't want to get into all of that."

If Gruden isn't considering a change, well for goodness' sake, why not? Shouldn't an experienced NFL quarterback play better than this? And if he can't, shouldn't his team have replaced him long ago?

Here's what history tells us. Rattay, the former 49er, once passed for 417 yards in an NFL game (in his past eight starts, Gradkowski has not broken 200). Rattay once had a game rating of 141.9 (vs. St. Louis).

As for Gradkowski, he said he would understand if Gruden made a change. "If you ask me," Gradkowski said, "I'm going to say, 'Stick with me.' "

That's what you would expect a competitor to say. A coach has to see a bigger picture, however. He has to demonstrate to his team that higher standards must be met. He has to give his defense hope that 20 points is not a death sentence.

Can Rattay do any of that? It's easy to doubt. The fact he hasn't played at all would indicate that Gruden doubts it, too.

Still, for the sake of running out of other things to try, it is time to find out.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.


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