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News » Garcia quietly leading Bucs toward playoffs

Garcia quietly leading Bucs toward playoffs

Garcia quietly leading Bucs toward playoffs
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Jeff Garcia listened to a reporter rattling off the names of some older quarterbacks who are lighting up the NFL. He was not the least bit surprised to hear he wasn't on the list.

The 38-year-old concedes Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Kerry Collins and their teams are having outstanding seasons, but also believes he deserves mention in the same discussions because of the way he's performed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing new as far as not being included in the pack. It's kind of the odd-man out syndrome type deal, but I don't really get caught up in worrying about it," said Garcia, who's been as hot as anyone over the part six weeks with a 5-1 record.

"I don't try to focus on being an elite quarterback amongst all of the big names. But each Sunday, I try to be the best quarterback on the field between the two teams, and that's not always an easy thing to do."

The three-time Pro Bowl selection will try to lead the first-place Bucs (8-3) to their fourth consecutive win Sunday, facing Drew Brees and New Orleans' top-ranked offense in an important NFC South matchup.

There's added motivation for Garcia to play well because he was benched in September after being outperformed by Brees during a 24-20 season-opening loss to the Saints (6-5). Since regaining the starting job when Brian Griese was injured in Week 5, a rejuvenated Garcia has completed more than 70 percent of his passes and distanced himself from the disappointment of how the season began.

"Getting benched after that game, or not getting a chance to step out on that field the next weekend and prove myself over again, that more so than anything stuck with me," Garcia said. "I realize and felt like I was capable of playing better than I did in that game, and unfortunately, I didn't make a couple plays that I usually do make."

New Orleans coach Sean Payton thinks the biggest difference between the Garcia the Saints faced in the opener and the quarterback that's helped Tampa Bay overcome double-digit deficits to win the past two road games is Garcia is healthy again after missing most of training camp because of injuries.

"At that position, regardless of who you are, you need that playing time and that experience in training camp," Payton said.

"He's certainly playing with confidence. He's always been a guy who can bring his team back. ... I think there's a common belief among the players in that huddle that he's going to get it done, regardless of what the score is."

The Bucs have the same kind of respect for Brees, who leads the NFL in yards passing and is on pace to break the league single-season record.

New Orleans has thrown the ball more than any team except Arizona, yet Brees has only been sacked nine times - third fewest in the NFL. One of the keys to disrupting him and the Saints offense will be mounting an effective pass rush.

The Bucs' defense, which has nine sacks in the past two weeks, dropped Brees once in the opener.

"Fortunately for us, we've been one of the very few teams to create some pressure. It may not be in sacks, but if we create an uncomfortable pocket, that's an advantage toward us," said Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks.

Even with a strong rush, Brees can be difficult to contain. He's thrown for 320-plus yards in eight of 11 games, including a 323-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 51-29 victory over Green Bay last week.

"This guy's one of the best in the world at what he does," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "Sometimes you have a heck of a rush, and he still slithers and slides and throws it sidearm or throws it left-handed. He's a hard guy to get to."

The Bucs, who've won two of the past three NFC titles, are beginning a stretch of three straight games against division opponents that will go a long way toward determining if they repeat as champions.

New Orleans, last in the standings despite having a winning record, has won two in a row and is looking to make a close race even tighter.

"You know with that team, regardless of where they are in the playoff chase, they're always going to give their best fight. The only time we ever didn't do it when I was there was when we already had it locked up," said former Saints center Jeff Faine, who signed with Tampa Bay after last season.

"It's a very capable team of beating us. They have every tool they need, an unbelievable offense, and our offense is definitely going to have to match with them and put some points on the board and take advantage of opportunities."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 29, 2008

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