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Arena league

Less is more for Stafford and Storm

A passing duel isn't what the QB wants against one of the league's best.

By FRANK PASTOR, Times Staff Writer
Published May 9, 2004

TAMPA - This is one fight Shane Stafford knows he will win with jabs, not counterpunches.

As the Storm continues to battle for its playoff life, Stafford will go toe to toe with one of the league's top quarterbacks today in Los Angeles' Tony Graziani.

But Stafford doesn't want to get suckered into a passing duel. He knows Tampa Bay's chances of winning increase the longer it maintains possession and the less Graziani sees the field, as Arizona proved in a 42-38 victory over the Avengers last week.

"We want to slow the game down a little bit and do what Arizona did," Stafford said. "They kind of slowed it down, and it almost looked like L.A. got a little frustrated because they couldn't score 60 points at will because, offensively, Arizona was taking what they were given and just going down the field."

Graziani's numbers are eye-catching. He went into Saturday leading the league with 75 touchdown passes and ranking second in passing yards (3,315) and rating (130.5). Stafford, on the other hand, was tied for the league lead in interceptions (11).

But Stafford doesn't mind stats as long as the Storm (6-7), which trails Los Angeles (7-5) by 11/2 games in the overall standings, wins. Tampa Bay, on a three-game win streak, likely needs to run the table to extend its league record 13-season playoff streak.

"We need to win six straight," Stafford said. "We won the first three rounds of the fight. Now, let's see what we can do in this fourth round."

Stafford, 28, is one reason Tampa Bay is still on its feet. He threw seven touchdowns, one short of his career high, in last week's 63-58 victory at Orlando. Scoring tosses of 4 yards to T.T. Toliver and 12 to Lawrence Samuels in the final three minutes allowed the Storm to hold off the Predators, who rallied from a 23-point deficit to tie it at 51.

Stafford has more confidence in his third Arena season, wide receiver Freddie Solomon said.

"Just this year alone, knowing he had the job and nobody else, gave him the confidence to move on and take that step forward and be the leader of this team as far as the offense goes," Solomon said.

Stafford was benched for two games this year but bounced back to win four of six starts since returning.

"Maybe that gave him a chance to really see how everything developed, gave him a chance to clear his head to see what's really going on," Solomon said.

Stafford, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, has benefitted from the tutelage of former Bucs quarterback Steve DeBerg, who videotapes every practice and has helped Stafford with his footwork and throwing motion since joining the staff midway through the season.

"He's real technical," Stafford said. "He critiques the little things that most of the time you'd overlook. Coach (Tim) Marcum's got a ton of things going, and it's hard for him to just hone in on the little things. Having an extra coach here, I think, really helps."

Stafford also has experience. He was the starting quarterback two years ago when the Storm bounced back from a 3-7 start to make the playoffs, where he threw for seven touchdowns in an opening-round win over Los Angeles.

"To go out there and not only win the game, but to play well personally, that was a big thing," Stafford said. "I'm sure there were some critics saying, "Can he win? Can he win games?' and "Can he win big games?' But football is such an ultimate team game, and it was a good sign for us to go ahead and end on that winning streak like that."

Stafford needs one touchdown to reach 100 for his career and 25 completions for 500. But to Stafford, they're just numbers.

"It's not like I'm going out there and setting records," he said. "The biggest thing, if we can get wins and come back from a 3-7 record and make it to the playoffs, that's a pretty big milestone right there."

[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:41:11]


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