Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This quiz is a few hours later than normal, since I was busy doing homework. Getting to sleep in very, very late today was also nice, I ran about, and once I got back from dinner, I had to tend to other things. No matter, I didn't forget. Here we are, a hot-off-the-presses QB Quiz, starring.... Jeff Garcia! (Although not his wife, or T.O.).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7): Jeff Garcia

The NFC South is a bit of a weak-sauce division. The Bucs, in fact, are the only team to have won a Super Bowl (in 2002, against the Raiders, which earns them kudos from Broncos fans from stopping the Silver & Black Heart Attack from picking up any more titles than necessary). While the Saints made it to the NFC championship game last season, they got beaten by the Bears, the Panthers have only been around for 12 years, and the Falcons are rapidly becoming much more of a punchline than they would like, what with Michael Vick's arrest and their head-coaching shenanigans. The Bucs made it to the playoffs this season, but got bounced on their home field by the eventual champion Giants, 24-14. With less-than-overwhelming competition around them, they will be eying a return to the postseason. Getting them there is likely to fall on the shoulders of Jeff Garcia. Former starter Chris Simms suffered a season-ending and serious injury in 2006, and although he re-signed with the Bucs thinking he would start, he ended up on IR for the rest of the year in October. Garcia took over the reins, and going into this season, is penciled in as the Bucs' starter after finishing with a 94.6 rating, the third highest of his career. Still, he's 37, Simms became inexplicably terrible even before he was hurt, and third-stringer Bruce Gradkowski has struggled, posting a 3-8 record as a starter. The Bucs may be checking out what's available in the draft.

Born in Gilroy, California, Garcia attended Gilroy High School and lettered in football and basketball (only two sports? What an underachiever). He attended San Jose State University, playing quarterback for the Spartans -- he had 6,545 passing yards, 48 TD, and a 129.4 passer rating, but went undrafted by an NFL team and instead got his start with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He was a backup for the first few seasons, but in his three years as primary starter, led them to records of 13-5, 10-8, and 12-6. (The CFL season is 18 games long and there are some minor rule differences -- the Canadian field is 110 yards long instead of the American 100, with much larger endzones. There are twelve men on the field in the Canadian style of play, instead of the famous eleven in American, and the tight end is an American innovation that generally isn't seen in the CFL. There is more pressure on Canadian teams to make immediately successful plays, as they only get three downs as opposed to the American four, so they don't have the luxury of wasting downs or only going for short gains. The faster pace is shown also in the fact that CFL teams have 20 instead of 25 seconds in between plays to re-assemble at the line of scrimmage and run another set. The CFL doesn't have a fair catch rule, the NFL does, and the CFL doesn't have false start penalties, as the entire offense is allowed to be in motion at the time of the snap. They also have a whole different set of clock-management rules past a certain time in the game, and only allow one timeout per team per half, resulting in a much different use of clock strategy. CFL players can have a catch called with only one foot in bounds, where in the NFL it takes both. Players such as Garcia who transition between the leagues can easily be thrown off by these changes before they adapt).

Anyway. Garcia led the Stampeders to a Grey Cup victory (the CFL's Super Bowl) in 1998 and from there made the transition to the NFL, where he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers in 1999. After starter Steve Young suffered a concussion in the early going, Garcia stepped in and made 10 starts for the rest of the year, throwing for 2,544 yards, 11 TD and INT, and a 77.9 passer rating. Keeping the first-string job after Young retired, he improved drastically the next year, where he enjoyed a breakout season -- 4,278 yards, 31 TD, 10 INT, and 4 rush TD to go with a 97.6 rating and a Pro Bowl selection. Despite this, the Niners finished only 6-10, but rebounded to make the playoffs in both of the next two years -- Garcia made three consecutive trips to Hawaii as he was also elected as a Pro Bowler in '01 and '02. He led a massive late-game comeback against the Giants in a playoff game in 2003 -- down 38-14 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, he engineered drives that led to 25 unanswered points and an eventual 39-38 victory. Garcia's performance that year, otherwise, was deemed poor -- 2,704 yards, 18 TD/13 INT, a 80.1 record, and a well-publicized spat with his mouthy wide receiver Terrell Owens, who famously insinuated that Garcia, er, liked men. (Garcia later married a Playboy Playmate to prove that he didn't).

The 49ers let him go and he signed in 2004 with the Cleveland Browns, with whom he spent one season, starting 10 games. His Pro Bowl game had taken a bit of a hit, as he ended up with 1,731 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT, and a 76.7 rating, numbers that led to his release by the club at the end of the year. Becoming a bit of a pinball after his initially successful career, he signed with the Lions in 2005, starting five games with 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT, and a poor 65.1 rating. (He should have just blamed Matt Millen, everyone else does). The Lions understandably weren't impressed with his showing and Garcia was turned out on his ear again, resurfacing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 to back up McNabb. This surprisingly rejuvenated his suddenly fading career -- after McNabb suffered his annual season-ending injury, Garcia stepped in to start 6 games, throwing 10 TD to only 2 INT and recording a 95.8 rating, his highest since his standout 2000 season. He won five consecutive games and helped the Eagles clinch the NFC East title with a 10-6 final record; they beat the Giants again in wild-card play, but lost in the divisional round to the Saints. Although both Garcia and the Eagles were left satisfied with the services of the other, they opted to let him move on yet again and sign younger backup Feeley to be McNabb's primary replacement.

Garcia caught on with the Bucs before the 2007 season, where he came in expecting to compete with Simms. The Bucs had gone a lowly 4-12 the year before, so when Garcia got the starting job and led them to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth, it was a nice change. In starting 13 games, he finished with 2,440 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, and a 94.6 rating, which was good for 7th in the NFL. However, they weren't able to make it three straight wins over the Giants in the postseason, as they lost the first game they played. Garcia got the call to replace Brett Favre in the Pro Bowl when Favre pulled out, making his first appearance there since 2002. Somewhat amusingly, he threw a TD pass to old foe Owens in helping the NFC with their 42-30 victory; maybe not seeing each other for a few years helps with the enmity, or maybe it's just Hawaii and you're there to play a backyard scrimmage and get some money. Or, more likely, they just avoided the subject.

Competing in a weak division, the Bucs will hope to carry over their improved play from this year into next. Garcia's contract is up after this year, so their quarterback situation will be unsettled; Simms and Gradkowski aren't looking like long-term answers. The Bucs have a very solid defensive unit, rating third in points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed, and 1st in pass yards allowed (although their run protection lags behind at 17th). Their offense is only middling, so they'll go hunting for some new scoring weapons in April. Given their other options, that will probably at some point include a signal-caller too.

No comments: