The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just six games into the 2008 season, but it’s never too late to start thinking out free agency in 2009. Scout.com’s Adam Caplan has confirmed that at least 11 Bucs will be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2009. Find out who the Bucs’ FAs are and get expert analysis today! Get the scoop right here.
The Bucs may have settled their quarterback quandary as Jeff Garcia returned to the lineup and directed the Bucs to a 27-3 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Garcia wasn't spectacular, completing 15 of 20 passes for 242 yards and one touchdown. But he made plays with his arm and his feet while not committing a turnover.
That's the steady hand the Bucs will need the rest of the season.
With Brian Griese out with elbow and shoulder injuries, the job appears to be Garcia's for the remainder of the season.
"Everybody's got their opinions," said Bucs coach Jon Gruden. "We did what we thought was right. I think Jeff is a great quarterback and I believe in him. I think that today he showed you his mobility and his ability to throw the ball and work in the pocket. He's a guy that's a creative player and he's won four or five games in a row against Carolina and that's a heck of an accomplishment.
Garcia said he is starting to feel like the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback after battling calf, ankle and finger injuries.
"I think the main thing for me as a player is I need to play with emotion," Garcia said. "I need to play with energy. I need to have a certain excitement about myself when I step out on the field. If I don't have that, then I am not who I need to be for these players, for my teammates.
"It wasn't so much about being away from the game these past four weeks as much as it was realizing what I needed to do in order to get myself back to where I can be myself on the field."
While the Bucs may have rediscovered their quarterback, they may have to begin a search for a fullback.
Starter Byron Storer suffered a sprained right knee covering a kickoff early in the first half. With B.J. Askew inactive with a hamstring injury, tailback Earnest Graham volunteered to play fullback.
Graham, who leads the Bucs in rushing, provided blocks for Warrick Dunn, who rushed for 115 yards against the Panthers -- the 30th 100-yard rushing day of his career. It also was the first time the Panthers had allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
"I just want everyone to know, although he didn't show up on the stat sheet, what he did today can make coaching worthwhile. I want to thank him for that," Gruden said.
"Earnest didn't just go into the hole today and just curl up. He laid himself into the hole with as much authority as he runs the football with. I got a lot of respect for what he did and our team is very impressed by that."
Graham, who idolized Dunn growing up in Fort Myers, said he enjoyed blocking Sunday.
"I had a good time," Graham said. "Byron Storer went down today and I had to play some fullback. I had a great time blocking for Warrick. We had a lot of fun on that long drive we had."
Dunn called Graham an unselfish player.
"You can't say enough about Earnest Graham," Dunn said. "The guy sacrificed his day to get in there and block and he did a great job. He was reading it the right way, putting hits on guys. He's the ultimate team guy."
Meanwhile, the Panthers running game went nowhere Sunday. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart combined for just 39 yards on 17 rushing attempts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have a good game last week. You dominate defensively. Offensively, you run the ball, pass the ball and then just come in here and basically lay an egg." -- Panthers WR Steve Smith.
BY THE NUMBERS: Entering Sunday's game, the Bucs had five passes of 20 yards or more. On Sunday against Carolina, QB Jeff Garcia completed four passes of 20 yards or more. "It was important to take some shots down the field," Garcia said.
QB Brian Griese was inactive with elbow and shoulder injuries. Griese did not practice all week.
QB Josh Johnson served as the inactive third QB for the first time this season Sunday against Carolina.
LG Arron Sears suffered a right knee sprain and did not finish the game. He will be evaluated Monday.
FB Byron Storer suffered a knee sprain on kickoff coverage in the first half and did not return to the game. With B.J. Askew inactive with a hamstring strain, the Bucs used RB Earnest Graham at fullback.
WR Joey Galloway worked out prior to the game but was inactive for the fourth straight week with a foot sprain.
RB Warrick Dunn rushed for 115 yards, the 30th 100-yard rushing day of his career, and he became the first player to rush for 100 yards this season against the Panthers.
G Jeremy Zuttah replaced injured starter Arron Sears at left guard.