Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1 Stat Fitting For Bucs QB: 3-0
TAMPA - Numbers may not lie, but Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese's recent statistics have been misleading. Griese has thrown six interceptions in the past two games. He threw three Sunday against Green Bay, three last week at Chicago and, if the trend continues, will quickly reach double digits. In comparison, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who has been buried on the bench since Opening Day, threw four interceptions in 13 games last season. Against the Packers, Griese completed 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown, but his passer rating was 36.Although Griese has struggled statistically, one fact remains after Tampa Bay's 30-21 victory at Raymond James Stadium: The Bucs have won three consecutive games since Griese took over as quarterback. Despite his struggles, Tampa Bay is 3-1 and now can be mentioned among this year's elite teams. "I want to find out how good we are if we don't turn the ball over," Griese said. "That's what I want to find out." So does Bucs coach Jon Gruden. "We've got to take care of the ball, period," Gruden said. "We've thrown six interceptions in two games. As good as he's played at times, those are six plays that he has to eliminate. He knows that." Although Griese has struggled, not every interception can be viewed as a bad decision. Tampa Bay opened up the second half on its 45-yard line and advanced to Green Bay's 17 in five plays. Griese dropped back and threw a short pass to Michael Clayton that bounced off his hands. Packers defensive back Tramon Williams snagged his team's first interception. "I thought the first interception at the start of the second half, we had a great drive," Gruden said. "We took the opening kickoff and moved it right down the field. Tight play, ball's tipped, it's intercepted. Not a lot you can say about that. I thought the ball was thrown fairly accurately." Tampa Bay took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter before Griese's pass for Antonio Bryant was intercepted by Green Bay safety Nick Collins. Three plays later, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings, narrowing the Packers' deficit to 20-14. Griese's final interception occurred in the fourth quarter when his pass to Warrick Dunn was intercepted by Charles Woodson and returned 62 yards for a touchdown, giving Green Bay a 21-20 advantage. "Nothing was open for him downfield," Woodson said. "He was going for the check down and we were in a zone, so I was able to sit there and read. He went through his progressions, he tried throw to the running back and I just broke." Gruden was so leery of another potential interception, he called for runs on eight of nine plays from the Packers 36-yard line midway through the fourth quarter - Griese scrambled for a first down on the only called pass play - before Matt Bryant kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 23-21 lead. Griese praised Tampa Bay's defense for helping to pull out another victory, while admitting he needs to cut down on turnovers. "You try to avoid interceptions at all costs and that is going to be my approach. But at the same time, you've got to be aggressive and you've got to trust that you can make throws," Griese said. "This was a good defensive team that we played, too. I give them credit. They made some good plays." Griese's recent statistics may not be impressive, but one matters most: 3-0. "We beat a team that was in the final four last year and we finished the first quarter of the season 3-1 after losing our opening game in New Orleans," Gruden said. "Given all the injuries we've had, and the guys that are stepping up, we're excited about the next quarter."
Reporter Anwar S. Richardson can be reached at (813) 259-8425 or [email protected]