TAMPA, Fla. - Brian Griese played smart, if not especially well, giving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers what they needed most: a win.
The Bucs turned two early mistakes by Atlanta’s Matt Ryan into 10 points, and Griese “managed” the team’s offense well enough to likely hold on to the starting quarterback job after a 24-9 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
“I wanted to come out and get the win. That was my goal,” said Griese, starting in place of Jeff Garcia, who was benched after playing poorly in Tampa Bay’s season-opening loss at New Orleans.
“Secondly, I wanted to knock the rust off myself and get a rhythm going. I think we did some good things that we can improve on. At the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunity to play.”
A week after beating Detroit in his pro debut, Ryan threw incompletions on his first nine passes before settling down to keep Atlanta (1-1) in the game with three field goal drives that trimmed a 17-point deficit to eight with five minutes to go.
The Bucs (1-1) ended any hopes the rookie would finish an improbable comeback when Earnest Graham took a handoff and barreled around right end on a 68-yard TD run that put the game out of reach.
“As a rookie, it’s not going to be easy. There’s going to be ups and downs. You’ve got to weather the storm,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to learn from experiences like this, take what you can from the film and get better.”
Ryan completed 13 of 33 passes for 158 yards. Aqib Talib’s interception on Atlanta’s third play set up Griese’s 5-yard TD throw to John Gilmore, and Sabby Piscitelli’s second-quarter pick positioned the Bucs for a field goal that made it 17-0.
Atlanta scored on Jason Elam’s 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the half, then Ryan led two long field-goal drives that gave the Falcons a chance if they could get the ball back.
Graham finished with 116 yards on 15 carries. Warrick Dunn had a 17-yard TD run in the second quarter and wound up with 49 yards on 12 carries.
But the Bucs were impressed with Ryan’s ability to retain his composure after the slow start. The rookie didn’t complete a throw until hitting Roddy White for a 9-yard gain with six minutes left in the second quarter.
“He battled through some bad passes, but he settled down because he’s big, he’s got strong arms, and he definitely doesn’t lack confidence,” cornerback Ronde Barber said.
Griese was 18-of-31 for 160 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. John Abraham sacked him in the fourth quarter, forcing Tampa Bay’s lone turnover.
Although Garcia twisted an ankle during the season opener, the injury wasn’t why coach Jon benched him.
Griese helped Tampa Bay to a 5-1 start before a season-ending knee injury in 2005, and the Bucs had hoped to re-sign him the following offseason before he agreed to a contract with Chicago.
Gruden reacquired him in a trade this year.
“I foresee Brian being the starter next week, but I’m not going to say it until I talk to both guys,” Gruden said.
“He managed the game. It’s his first game back here as a starter, and to win is quite an accomplishment. He missed a couple of guys he would normally hit, but he managed the game and will get better and better.”
With Michael Turner running for a franchise-record 220 yards in his Falcons debut, Ryan only threw the ball 13 times against Detroit. Sunday, he had more attempts than that in the first half alone.
Some of the throws were high, one was thrown behind a receiver and intercepted by Piscitelli, and another was launched backward toward the sideline, bouncing 11 yards in the wrong direction before rolling out of bounds.
“Obviously, you don’t want to start 0-for-9 and throw two interceptions. But you’ve got to keep battling,” Ryan said. “Everybody on our team did that. You’ve got to love that.”
The Bucs limited Turner to 42 yards on 14 carries. … WR Joey Galloway, who did not play in the preseason because of a sore groin, sprained an ankle in the fourth quarter. … Falcons rookie LT Sam Baker was hit in the head in the first half and did not return. Coach Mike Smith said his status will be evaluated Monday.