Jeff Garcia Will Make Or Break The NFC South Race

Oliver EllisCorrespondent INovember 26, 2008

Jeff Garcia is the well-travelled veteran. From San Francisco to Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia, Jeff Garcia has never been so important as he is now, in Tampa.

In short, the Buccaneers' offensive success hinges on Jeff Garcia. He understands Gruden's scheme. He knows his receivers. He'll happily check down to Warrick Dunn or the clutch Ike Hilliard. He's brought Antonio Bryant back from the wilderness. He's even getting production from Michael Clayton, who has struggled since 2004.

Garcia's ability to stretch the pocket and force defensive linemen to chase him are among his greatest strengths. His legs are his "ally", according to head coach Jon Gruden. There isn't a quarterback like him in the NFL today.

The Buccaneers are 8-3, top of the NFC South. They have a remaining schedule of New Orleans, then at Carolina on Monday Night Football, then Atlanta in the Georgia Dome, before finishing with two home games against the AFC West's San Diego and Oakland.
Tough games. But winnable games.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers face divisional foe New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium. When the Bucs last faced the Saints in the Superdome, Jeff Garcia was distinctly off-colour, and the Bucs fell to a 27-24 opening day defeat.

Garcia lost his starting job that day. Brian Griese came in, and didn't get the job done, despite an impressive comeback win in Chicago. Griese hurt his elbow in the Bucs' loss to Denver, and Garcia took over.

Since then, he has thrown for 1,783 yards and seven touchdowns. He completes 69.8 percent of his passes and has only thrown three interceptions. His rating is 94.5. Simply, Garcia is in excellent form.

He does not have the spectacular stats of Drew Brees, but his efficiency and penchant for ball-security fits perfectly into Tampa Bay's scheme. Providing the top-10 Buccaneer defense stays hot (24 sacks, 14 picks, and averaging only 16.4 points per game), Garcia is always in a position to make plays.

If the Buccaneers can continue their excellent home form (5-0), then they will be well-placed to retain the NFC South. Should they do this, they will be the first team to do so since the league's 2002 realignment.

A road victory at Carolina in front of the nation will go a long way to showing the rest of league exactly what kind of team they are.

If the Buccaneers can win out their remaining five games, they will be superbly placed for a play-off run. If Garcia can remain injury-free, then Tampa could be a surprise package in the NFC race.