Garcia's injury exposes offensive weakness

Jeff Garcia left Sunday's game on the third play with a back injury, and he took the Bucs' offense with him. With Bruce Gradkowski under center, the best the Bucs received from the second-year quarterback was no turnovers. Now the Garcia watch begins as the Bucs hold their breath to see if he can play next week.

TAMPA — Jeff Garcia's injury on the first play of the game exposed what many suspected this season.

Without Garcia, the offense is impotent.

Garcia suffered what he called a "deep bruise" to his back on the first play of the game. He left two plays later and didn't return until late in the game when the Buccaneers had become unable to move the ball with backup Bruce Gradkowski under center.

Garcia said Redskins defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin's helmet hit his back in "just the right spot" to bruise his back.

Trainers taped Garcia's back heavily with a pad to try and take pressure off his back. It took Garcia most of the game to stretch out the area so he could play, which wasn't until the end of the third quarter.

"I didn't feel like I was putting my team in a bad position coming back in the game," Garcia said.

The Bucs racked up a season low 192 net yards, most of it with Gradkowski in the game. The second half was particularly frustrating. The Bucs ran just 13 plays, held the ball for less than five minutes and didn't record a first down.

Gradkowski went 9-of-19 passing for 106 yards. Despite short fields created by four first-half Redskins turnovers, the Bucs only managed one touchdown as the Redskins adjusted to stop running back Earnest Graham and put the game in Gradkowski's hands.

On the upside, the second-year quarterback didn't commit a turnover.

"(Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks came over to me one time and said, "Just protect the football. We'll get it back.' And they did that," Gradkowski said.

Graham had 75 yards rushing, but most of that came in the first quarter.

Garcia said he expected the next couple of days to be painful, but hoped to be ready to practice by Wednesday or Thursday. He felt he would be ready to play on Sunday against New Orleans.

"It's important we get better on offense because we can't afford to have games like that," Garcia said. "Without the turnovers it's a much different situation."

CARTER'S MILESTONE: Bucs DE Kevin Carter recorded his 100th career sack on Sunday, and it came at an opportune time. His 6-yard sack of Redskins QB Jason Campbell on third down limited the Redskins to a field goal, keeping the Bucs ahead 19-13.

Carter now had 100 ½ sacks for his career.

"It felt wonderful," Carter said. "I wanted another one. I'm thankful. When you play you don't notice things. Some things are surreal and some are milestones. To still be playing at this point, at this level and on this defense, it's really awesome."

PLAYOFF UPDATE: The Bucs (7-4) remained two games ahead of New Orleans in the NFC South, giving them a degree of leeway entering Sunday's game with the Saints. Even a loss against the Saints keeps the Bucs in the division lead.

But a victory all but seals the Bucs as the NFC South champion. It would give them a three-game lead with four games to play. If the season ended today, the Bucs would be the NFC's No. 4 playoff seed and host a home playoff game.

"It's a huge game," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We know what's at stake. So do they (New Orleans)."

QUOTABLE: "It might be the shoes. But it definitely has something to do with the moon. The gravitational pull, the tide, the low tide. I don't know. I'll have to check the fishing report. Maybe tomorrow morning is when I walk out to that lake behind my house and I finally catch that 10-pound bass I've been dreaming about. I don't know." — Carter, on the Bucs forcing four first-half fumbles.

HUSKER RUMORS: Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had little to say about rumors that he may be in line to replace Bill Callahan at Nebraska.

"I haven't heard anything right now. We'll just wait and see on that. I spent a little time there, so we'll wait and see," Kiffin said.

Kiffin was a defensive assistant under Tom Osborne — now Nebraska's athletic director — from 1966-76.

TURNOVER HIGH: Tampa Bay created six turnovers on Sunday, its highest single-game total since facing St. Louis on Nov. 26, 2001.

INJURIES: Along with Garcia, Redskins DE Phillip Daniels left the game in the second quarter with an injury.

INACTIVES: For Tampa Bay, RB Michael Pittman, QB Luke McCown (third quarterback), CB Keiwan Ratliff, LB Jeremiah Trotter, G Dan Buenning, TE Keith Heinrich, DE Greg Spires and DT Greg Peterson were inactive. For Washington, S Sean Taylor, QB Mark Brunell (third quarterback), CB David Macklin, FB Mike Sellers, OL Todd Wade, DT Ryan Boschetti, G Randy Thomas and WR James Thrash were inactive.

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.


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