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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia, talking with coach Jon Gruden, was pulled with 3:49 remaining in the second quarter.
SAN FRANCISCO - Jeff Garcia's back remains unbroken.
Earnest Graham left the field under his own power.
Derrick Brooks is whole, Ronde Barber is hardy and Jermaine Phillips is healthy.
So let's hear it for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Evidently, they got just what they wanted out of another lost California weekend.
Pretty much, they walked away with a limp. Yippee.
And in the meantime, what's a little thing like losing?
Two weeks before the start of the playoffs, and the Bucs traveled 3,000 miles for the world's latest preseason game Sunday afternoon. They played sloppy, they played sluggish and, most of all, they played guys you had forgotten were still on the roster.
When it was all over, the Bucs had lost a football game, and they had lost momentum, and they had lost their final chance at being the No. 3 seed in the NFC. Ah, but they kept their stars upright, which was the underlined part of the game plan, and so everything seemed to be wonderful in the Bucs locker room. Because, as the commercial says, when you have your health, you have everything.
This wasn't exactly a football team charging toward the playoffs. This was 60 minutes of duck and cover. This was don't-get-anyone-hurt football. The last time the Bucs approached a game like this, it was late August and a roster cutdown was 48 hours away.
This time, with the postseason approaching, it seems fair to ask: Shouldn't the Bucs have tried a little harder to win this game?
Let's be honest. In the NFL, the debate between discretion and valor is an old one. Once the playoff bracket is more or less in order, coaches will disagree vigorously about how much to play their starters vs. how much to protect them. But all of them will agree that the concept of a starting quarterback writhing on the ground is a bad one.
Did you see the way Garcia was knocked around in the second quarter? Twice in six plays, he was slammed to the ground with the force of a man being struck by a car. So, yeah, Gruden was right to get Garcia out of the game. I'm not sure I would have let him stand on the sideline.
Given Joey Galloway's tender shoulder, I would have pulled him, too. Let the two of them finish their Christmas shopping.
As for pulling everyone else, the feeling here is that Gruden overdid it.
Hey, it's football. You play. A contract is for 16 games. You play. You try to turn nine wins into 10. You play. You try to keep the juices flowing, and you try to allow a team to feel better about itself, and you try to enter the postseason with a little swagger. You play.
Yet in the middle of the third quarter, the Bucs had unleashed Quincy Black and Adam Hayward and Luke McCown and Micheal Spurlock and Sammy Davis and Kalvin Pearson. All of them, it seemed, fumbled punts.
Naturally, the Bucs were quick to dismiss the importance of lost momentum. Those who have lost it do that all of the time. Gruden suggested such talk was for "TV guys." Garcia said that next week's home game against Carolina might be treated as a "bye week."
At this point, it's hard to believe that momentum wouldn't be good for this team. After all, winning is better than losing, and answers are better than questions, and a locker room that feels as if things are clicking is better than one that might start to wonder. Except for the Bucs and Green Bay, every team that has clinched the playoffs won this week. Silly them.
For some teams, show horse teams, perhaps throttling back is the right thing to do. But for a workhorse team like Tampa Bay, a bunch of grinders and grunters, it seems the let's-keep-working philosophy is a better fit.
Instead, the Bucs have now lost two of their last three games to quarterbacks named Sage Rosenfels and Shaun Hill. If they empty the bench next week, too, they face the possibility of entering the playoffs having lost three of four.
So how do you feel about your Bucs in the playoffs now?
Here's a better question: How do you think the Giants, the Bucs' playoff opponent, feel about them?
When the Giants get around to glimpsing at the film of this Bucs game - and who knows, they may take a day off this week themselves - they are going to notice a team that gets too many penalties, a team that has no clue what to do when the other team punts, a team that doesn't close out a drive when it gets inside the 20 and a team that drops too many passes.
In other words, there are some things the Bucs need to clean up before the playoffs begin.
Just a wild thought here, but wouldn't the final two weeks of the season be a good opportunity for that?