Garcia says he's healthy enough to play, disagrees with benching

Jeff Garcia disagreed with coach Jon Gruden's decision to bench him for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home opener Sunday and said he is healthy enough to practice and play.

Garcia, who sprained an ankle during the Bucs' 24-20 season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints, acknowledged Thursday that he could have played better in Week 1 but disputed Gruden's decision to bench him and let veteran Brian Griese start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons instead.

"Right now, having only played one game, I would've liked the opportunity to battle through whatever I'm going through," Garcia told reporters Thursday. "But Coach made that decision early in the week and I have to live with it.

"I understand in the game on Sunday, there were a couple plays I left out on the field. And I'm hard enough on myself to know that they could've been difference-makers in the game. I know I can turn that around, I can learn from whatever I didn't do. And I think there's been some things that unfortunately have piled up injurywise that I don't like to bring to anybody's attention because I always feel I can fight through it, that I can always get through those things and not have them be a factor. Well, Coach feels like there's some things that are factors, that are taken away from what I bring to the table. So right now, it's his decision," he said.

The 38-year-old Garcia was not sharp against the Saints -- completing 24
of 41 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- after missing most of training camp and the preseason with a strained right calf. His preparation for the Saints was also affected by a jammed pinkie finger on his throwing hand. He also said that he injured his back early in the offseason. But Garcia wore no special support for his ankle Thursday.

"I've played through a lot worse before and that's not anything new," Garcia said. "It's just one thing after another and I know everybody will say, hey, well he's old and he's running out of gas and this is what happens to old guys … all I can do is focus on getting better and being supportive."

Garcia signed with Tampa Bay before last season and helped the Bucs go 9-7 and win the NFC South for the second time in three years. The Bucs lost in the first round of the playoffs, and little has gone right for him since.

During the offseason, the quarterback expressed unhappiness over the lack of progress on a contract extension. Then Gruden angered him by pursuing a trade for Brett Favre during the opening week of training camp.

"I can't continue to focus or dwell on things that aren't positive for this team and those things aren't positive because if I dwell on that, that takes away who I need to be for this team," Garcia said.

"I feel like I'm emotionally stable. I'm not a basket case. I'm not somebody who's going to take away what this team's focus is … If that's what he believes, if that's what he feels, I need to do my best to get that back and prove to him that it's there," he said.

In Griese, Gruden is turning to another veteran who has had success in his offense. The 11th-year pro helped the Bucs to a 5-1 start in 2005 before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

He signed with Chicago as a free agent the following offseason and spent two years with the Bears, who traded him to Tampa Bay in March.

Gruden said despite the benching, his relationship with Garcia is fine.

"He knows exactly where I'm coming from," the coach said after practice.

"Jeff will not start. ... I expect him to be active, and hopefully he can get back here soon and play with the style that we all know and need around here."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.