Brian Griese has had a passer rating over 90 in six straight games, a first in franchise history
Brian Griese, he of the half-dozen games as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback, insists he can get a lot better in Jon Gruden's offense. It's a good thing, too, because his single-game quarterback rating plummeted to its lowest mark in a month last Sunday against the 49ers.
Yep, plummeted all the way to 95.4. In a 35-3 rout. Can't this guy watch a little game film or something?
Truth be told, Griese's performance against San Francisco wasn't measurably different from what he did in the previous five games, and that's a good thing. A very good thing. Had Griese seen safety Tony Parrish on the two interceptions he threw right into Parrish's hands, he would have had a 135.0 rating, which you might expect to see after he led his team to a dominant, 32-point victory.
Of course, those two picks can't be erased. Still, that gives him just four interceptions in 163 throws over the past six games, more than balanced by 10 touchdown passes, a gaudy 69.9% completion rate and an average of over 200 aerial yards per game. Griese's overall numbers since he took over in the second quarter of the New Orleans game on October 10 add up to a quarterback rating of 104.4, the fifth-best mark in the NFL.
So it's awfully encouraging to hear that Griese, in his estimation, hasn't come close to scraping the ceiling yet.
"Seriously, I think I can get a lot better," he said. "I'm still learning each and every week the intricacies of this offense, and starting to learn when to take shots and chances, how to get in and out of plays, who on the offense to go to in crucial situations. All those different things, as you get more experience playing at the quarterback position, I think they get better and better."
Griese has given the Bucs' offense more shots down the field – 16 completions of 20 or more yards in those six games – while still taking care of the ball. Not one of his four interceptions has resulted in points for the other team. The Bucs have also sustained drives better under his direction, which has allowed him to work more players into the mix. All in all, it's working, as evidenced by Griese's passer ratings at the end of the last six games: 126.8, 94.4, 100.5, 111.9, 100.5 and that terribly disappointing 95.4.
How rare is a run like that? In terms of Buccaneer history, as rare as a pit bull at Westminster. Not only has no other Tampa Bay quarterback ever had six straight games of a passer rating higher than 90, none have even had five straight games at that level. In fact, only three other teams in team history has a Buc passer had a rating of 80 or better in five straight games, and never in six.
Griese is also only the third Buc ever to have three straight games in triple digits. Brad Johnson did it in Games 3-5 last year, and Vinny Testaverde got over 100 for four straight games in the first half of the 1990 season.
When second-year man Chris Simms got hurt in the first quarter of his first NFL start, opening the door for Griese to step in, the Buccaneers were disappointed in Simms's misfortune but confident in their veteran reserve. But did they think he would do this well? Well, it's doubtful anyone could have predicted how perfect the timing would be.
"It's a culmination of a lot of different things," said Griese of his success in the Bucs' system. "I think it's the right time for me to be here. I've been through a lot in my career, learned quite a bit, and I think at this stage in my career it's a great place for me to be."
Griese has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his six games; the team record for consecutive games with a scoring throw is 11, set by Johnson last year. Of course, the Bucs have also scored seven rushing touchdowns in his five starts, after getting none during the first five games. There's no doubt that the resurgence of the Bucs' running game in the hands of Michael Pittman and an improving offensive line have helped Griese, and vice versa.
"I think it's a symbiotic relationship," said Griese. "When he's running the ball it allows us to do some play-action things, and when we're running naked [bootlegs] and doing those types of things, it opens the backside cut angles for Mike Pittman to run in. He's done a great job, not just running the ball but blocking in pass protection, catching the ball out of the backfield, clearing out routes for our receivers. He's done everything."
Pittman has also ripped off some long runs, which have put Griese in position to work his precision magic in the red zone. And some short passes have turned into very long gains after the catch, often when Griese has faked a handoff and rolled out to find a wide-open man.
Of course, it was on a play-action rollout that Griese threw one of his interceptions against the 49ers, an attempted pass to Joey Galloway in the middle of the end zone. That turnover ended a 13-play, 74-yard drive in a rather unsatisfying manner, but the Bucs got the ball back a few minutes later and Griese simply marched his team for another touchdown, then another before the half was over.
In other words, the two picks might have brought Griese's passer rating for the game a smidgen below 100, but they didn't come close to endangering the Bucs' chances for victory.
"Interceptions are going to happen," said Griese, who nonetheless once threw just four picks in a season while racking up 19 touchdown passes. "You don't want them to happen, but it was a situation where I didn't see the safety. You throw it, and there's really nothing you can do about it after it's over with except come out in the next series and let your team know that you've put it behind you, and go out and score some touchdowns. I think that's what we did."
A half-dozen games into his Buccaneer career, Griese has little trouble maintaining his teammate's confidence in him. He has earned it with play so solid, and at times spectacular, that it qualifies as one of the better runs by a quarterback in franchise history.
And all he wants to do is get better.