Season in hell for Garcia

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:25 PM ET

An alarmed Jeff Garcia quickly looked right, then left, desperately seeking any kind of escape route to slither past the oncoming rush.

No such luck. He was surrounded.

Had his pursuers been a Michael Strachan or Richard Seymour, it would have been much easier to deal with. The elusive Garcia, after all, has made a career of avoiding would-be tacklers.

But this was different. This time it was the media horde that had tracked him down.

Garcia's Cleveland Browns had just been humiliated 42-15 by the defending-champion New England Patriots, a game in which rookie quarterback Luke McCown made his NFL debut for Cleveland. The former Calgary Stampeders star could serve only as the backup on this day, saddled with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder that siphoned him of much of his arm strength.

Call it just another setback in what arguably has been the most volatile year of Garcia's pro career, one the veteran quarterback was uncomfortable talking about as he faced the swarm of notepads, cameras and microphones.

"I think any time you are struggling on the field, any time you are not winning games on the field, it's frustrating," said Garcia, who bypassed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to sign with the Browns over the summer.

"We're struggling as a team. It's disappointing. We're all in this together and we're just trying to find a way to get ourselves out of this hole we've dug ourselves. It's not an easy thing but we need to maintain our outlook and poise, and try to fight through it."

As he talked, Garcia appeared fidgety and on edge. It was almost as if Terrell Owens had just walked into the room.

The ink barely was dry on Garcia's contract last summer when Owens, his ex-teammate with the San Francisco 49ers, questioned his former quarterback's sexual preferences. Without actually calling Garcia gay, Owens, during an interview with Playboy, said: "Like my boy tells me: If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat."

Garcia had yet to play a down for Cleveland and here he was, forced to defend himself by refuting the allegations and pointing out to skeptics that he had a girlfriend.

It was just the beginning of Garcia's tumultuous stint on the southern shores of Lake Erie.

Former Browns quarterback Tim Couch, who was cut during camp, said Garcia was a bad fit for Cleveland's offensive system. It certainly appeared that way early in the season as the Browns had to claw for points, leading Garcia to question the play-calling of offensive co-ordinator Terry Robiskie.

Now, things have gone from bad to worse.

Robiskie has been elevated to interim coach of the hapless 3-9 Browns after Butch Davis last week resigned his coaching/general manager's duties. Despite being slaughtered in his first game at the helm last Sunday, Robiskie felt McCown played well, tossing for 277 yards.

While Garcia met with doctors earlier this week and received a favourable diagnosis, McCown has been announced as the starter for the Browns when they meet the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.

Whether Garcia is being passed over for health reasons or by a coach's decision, his future with the Browns seems cloudy.

"My contract is with this team," said Garcia, who has completed 57% of his passes for 1,726 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"Right now, I'm with this team.Who knows what changes will take place in the off-season.That's the off-season. Right now, I'm just trying to get back, get healthy and do my job."

Robiskie chuckled when asked about Garcia's long-term outlook.

"We'll handle Jeff Garcia when we handle Jeff Garcia," Robiskie told Cleveland reporters on Monday. "Tell Jeff Garcia I'm having visions of Terry Robiskie being here next year."

Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?


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