When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 2 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay's run to a division championship.
2. TAMPA BAY SIGNS QB JEFF GARCIA TO A TWO-YEAR CONTRACT, MARCH 3
Yet the bigger news that day was the Jake Plummer debacle, as general manager Bruce Allen tried to convince the media that the Bucs wanted both quarterbacks.
As it turned out, Garcia was the right choice.
Head coach Jon Gruden hinted in mid-May that Garcia was the "leader in the clubhouse," and Garcia never lost his grip on the job. Since mid-2004 the quarterback job in Tampa Bay had been in flux, thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and free agency.
Garcia brought stability to a position that Gruden considers the most important on the field.
Garcia set the tone for his season on the second drive of the home opener against New Orleans. Scrambling for a first down deep in Saints territory, Garcia went head first into two tacklers, rather than slide. He absorbed a big hit from one of those defenders, but got right back up and led the Bucs to a touchdown.
Garcia ended up epitomizing the Bucs of 2007 — tough against all odds. With all the injuries that sapped this team's talent, Garcia kept them going.
Garcia did miss nearly three games due to a freak back contusion, but in his absence the team played with Garcia's trademark toughness.
Garcia, overall, played well. He completed 64 percent of his passes, threw 13 touchdowns to 4 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 94.6. He also broke or tied three individual team records, including his 189 completions without an interception, breaking Brad Johnson's team record of 187.
Wide receiver Ike Hilliard probably summed it up best before the playoff game against the Giants.
"Man, I wish Jeff was 25," Hilliard said.
But Garcia will be 38 on opening day. There is no doubt he will be the starter for the foreseeable future.
And there is no doubt the Bucs changed the course of their season on that day in early March.
Next: One middle linebacker leaves, another takes his place.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.