QB Jeff Garcia has helped lead the Bucs to a 7-3 record and the thick of the NFC playoff race
Much has been made this week about the (admittedly large) handful of coaches and players working for the Detroit Lions who have direct ties to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let's not forget, though, that the Buccaneers actually have a former Lion of their own.
Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl quarterback, Jeff Garcia, spent the 2005 season in Detroit, but it was mostly a year he'd like to forget. Injuries and a tenuous hold on the starting job limited Garcia to just six games with five starts, the least game action the 10th-year veteran has seen in a season in his entire career. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 937 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions.
Could it be possible, then, that Garcia is nurturing any feelings of frustration or anxiety as the Bucs prepare to head north to Detroit for a Week 12 battle with the 0-10 Lions?
If Garcia harbored any demons from that year in Detroit, he had a chance to exorcise them last year when he led the Bucs into Motown in October. Turnovers doomed the Bucs in a 23-16 losing effort on that day, however, and that loss more than any lingering feelings about his year in Detroit have Garcia motivated for the rematch in 2008.
"I am going back there," said Garcia. "It was an experience that wasn't all that great when I was there, but that is the unfortunate side of it. It is another game for me as far as I am concerned. I am going back there hopefully to do better things than what happened last year, and I think that is the main thing. We went back there last year and didn't play to the best of our abilities and had some crucial mistakes that cost us a chance to win that football game.
"We have to be aware of those same things this year and know that records are out the window. It doesn't matter. They are an NFL football team and they are going to come to play. They have a lot of guys on their defense that have played here and understand what we do offensively, so we are going to have to be very careful about what we do, and whatever we do, we have to do it well."
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Bucs' loss in Detroit last year was that they very easily could have emerged as the victors. The Bucs outgained the Lions 422 to 278 in total yards, held the ball for 35:50 and were two-for-three in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Individually, Garcia threw the ball well, completing 37-of-45 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
But as nice as those statistics look, Garcia lost two costly fumbles – the only turnovers of the game – that each resulted in touchdowns for the Lions.
"I know there was one statistic that mattered, and that was that we lost the football game," Garcia said. "I focus on the two really critical plays, [and those] were the fumbles that led to points for them. You can't afford to do those types of things in critical situations, critical times, and you just can't afford to turn the football over and give teams opportunities to do things against us. Hopefully, that's something that we can correct. I think that's one of the things that we've done too much as of late, is turn the football over. We need to be better about that, about protecting the ball."
Fast forward to the 2008 matchup between these two teams, and there is a lot more on the line than just avenging a loss to the Lions from last season. While the Bucs are in the thick of a heated playoff race in the NFC, the Lions have yet to win a game, and thus both teams are extremely hungry for a victory.
As easy as it may be to overlook a team with an 0-10 record, as one of the Bucs' veteran leaders, Garcia is keeping his team focused. He knows that with nothing to lose, the Lions will give the Bucs all they've got come Sunday.
"Facing a team that is in a position like Detroit, you can't afford to mentally allow yourself to have a letdown," Garcia said. "Secondly, physically you can't afford to have a letdown. You need to come out there expecting that they're going to try to hit you in the mouth and you have to be prepared to hit them in the mouth before they get to you. That's just the attitude and the emphasis that we have to have this week, as far as our preparation is concerned.
"I think sometimes it does create a very scary situation. The pressure is not necessarily on them. It's on us to continue the roll that we've been on. It's on us to show that we're capable and we're deserving of being a 7-3 – and hopefully an 8-3 – team. That's the focus that we have to have and we can't get into spending too much time thinking about where they are in the win-loss area. This is going to be a tough game. I just think that you have to throw records out the window. It is not a matter of where a team stands going into a game, you know that they are pros also. They're at this level for a reason and they have the ability to play the game. Right now they are in a position where their backs are truly against the wall. They don't want to make history in a negative way, so they are going to come out and give us everything they have."
With a chance to make up for last year's loss and pick up a crucial victory as the Bucs head down the stretch lie, Garcia's next trip to Detroit holds much more than just personal meaning.
Without risking arrogance in suggesting the Bucs should beat an 0-10 team – which is not his point – Garcia instead kept the focus on his team's preparation and performance.
"Every single week we go into games expecting to win the football game," Garcia said. "This is a game where we have to go in and really focus on the little things that we have not been doing over the last couple weeks, improve upon those things, and put us in a position to have a chance to win this football game."