QB Jeff Garcia's efficient scrambling on Sunday night often bought him just enough time to get a big throw off
Like a pitcher who relies on a cut fastball, some NFL quarterbacks are at their best when they're getting late movement.
Jeff Garcia is such a passer.
Garcia might not have the 100-mph fastball of a drop-and drive hurler like Roger Clemens or the Dan Marino-like measurables of a classic pocket passer. That would explain why he didn't get a sniff from the NFL coming out of San Jose State in 1994. What Garcia does have, despite starting his pro career in Canada, is an NFL resume that includes four Pro Bowls and a very classic 87.4 career passer rating. In 441 passes as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, he owns a franchise-record 94.3 rating.
And, as his 300-yard game against Seattle on Sunday night showed, Garcia is often at his best when on the move.
"He was hot," said appreciative Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He ran a no-huddle offense. He did some things on his own, the play selection. He was great I thought. On the moveâ€¦he scrambledâ€¦the touchâ€¦he drove the ball in some tight holes a couple times. He was alive. He was fresh."
Garcia's biggest hit of the day, a 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant in the first quarter, was out of the pocket. On that one, he stood in against a blitz, pumped once and then heaved an arcing spiral down the left sideline for the Bucs' longest passing play of the year. For his second-longest gainer, however, Garcia bought time by moving left out of the pocket and lofted a touch pass over the first line of defense to tight end Jerramy Stevens for 31 yards.
Garcia, who was sacked only once by a Seahawk team averaging almost three sacks a game coming in, glided around the field all night, giving his receivers more time to find open pockets downfield. The result was 10 different pass-catchers and a big-play element that had been lacking in Tampa Bay's aerial attack for much of the season.
"Mobility was a factor," said Gruden after the game. "He created some opportunities running and throwing to a lot of people. He was fun to watch."
Of course, Garcia's slow start to 2008 was part of the reason for that dearth of long plays. As comfortable as the 10th-year veteran looked against Seattle — and in a 27-3 thrashing of Carolina the week before — he appeared just as unsteady in a season-opening loss at New Orleans. Plagued by a string of injuries over the summer, Garcia got very little preparation time before the regular season, and it showed. Gruden chose to replace him in the lineup for what turned out to be a month by Brian Griese, and Garcia used that time to regain his form.
Now he looks like the Pro Bowl passer he was in 2007 and it's paying off for the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay went 3-1 in Griese's four starts and is now 2-0 and on a bit of a roll with Garcia back at the helm. Garcia has completed exactly 75% of his passes in each of his two starts since returning to the lineup, and was exactly the player Gruden expected to see on Sunday against Seattle.
"He was 27 out of 36, two of the incompletions he [spiked it to stop the clock], and I think two or three of the balls were dropped," said Gruden. "He was on it. He played a great game for us. When you convert 10 or 11 third downs against a Seattle defense, your quarterback played really well."
Such play since his return has Garcia shooting up the NFL's passer rating chart. He's at 93.3 after the Seattle game, good for sixth in the conference and 10th in the league. Over the last two games, Garcia has had a 112.4 combined rating. His month-long layoff will probably keep him away from the tops of the charts in counting statistics such as yards and touchdowns, but he currently is third in the NFL in completion percentage and eighth in interception percentage.
And, again, he's bringing the big play back to the Bucs' passing game. Over the first five games of the season, the Bucs had five passing plays of 20 or more yards; over the last two weekends, they've had six such plays, including the first long-distance passing touchdown of the year on Bryant's catch.
The Bucs hope those kinds of trends continue.
"Jeff getting all the reps on the practice field the last couple of weeks has helped us," said Gruden. "So hopefully [Sunday] night is the start of something big."