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Griese has been there, done that

Brian Griese didn't have any advice for J.P. Losman before his first road start this weekend in Tampa, Fla. "I might have some for him after the game," Griese said with a laugh during a conference call Wednesday.

Losman will find out soon enough what it's like to play quarterback against a top NFL defense in a hostile environment. There's not much Griese could say to help him, anyway. No one can give Losman the things he needs most right now -- time and experience.

"I've learned a lot over the years," Griese said. "Playing quarterback in the NFL is probably the hardest position on the field, mentally and physically, and from that standpoint, I have learned a lot. It takes a special individual to be able to do it."

Griese learned the hard way, on and off the field. In seven turbulent seasons, he has gone from rookie to Pro Bowler to bumbling failure. He has been called a spoiled brat, a drunk, a choker and a bad teammate. A year ago, he was a third-stringer, hanging on to his spot in the league.

Yet here Griese is, back near the top of his profession. Armed with a new five-year, $32 million contract, he'll be the starting quarterback for Tampa Bay when the Bills and Bucs collide Sunday.

Sometimes, success can be a product of circumstance. Griese spent five years in Denver as the successor to John Elway. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000. Two years later, he was waived. In 2003, he played five forgettable games for Miami, where his father, Bob, had been a star. He signed with Tampa Bay in 2004 and said he wanted to "resurrect" his career.

The Bucs started 0-4 last year (sound familiar?) and coach Jon Gruden made second-year man Chris Simms the starter. But Simms got hurt in his first game. Griese, who began the season as No. 3, was now the starter. Griese responded by throwing 20 TD passes and leading the NFL in completion percentage with a franchise-record 69.3 percent.

"It's all tempered by the fact we weren't as successful a team as we should have been," Griese said. "We ended up 5-11 and it was a disappointing season."

Despite Griese's gaudy stats, there were whispers about his performance in the clutch. He threw some critical interceptions in the fourth quarter of losses, reviving doubts about his ability to make smart decisions late in close games.

Those late-game struggles are hard to fathom because Griese is otherwise seen as a precise passer who compensates for his limited arm strength with sound decision-making. "He's a very heady, accurate quarterback who is suited for this system," Gruden said.

Griese is 30, a married man, active in charity work. He's come a long way from his wayward early years in Denver, where he suffered an assortment of public embarrassments -- getting arrested on DUI charges, falling on his face in a teammate's driveway, and hurting his ankle by tripping over his dog.

Gruden has entrusted Griese with his West Coast offense, a complex whirl of shifting and motion that demands precision and intelligence from the guy behind center. The Bucs won at Minnesota in the opener, 24-13. Griese threw for 213 yards and two TDs. But he also threw two interceptions, one that was returned for a TD.

The job is his, but Griese takes nothing for granted. Gruden said Griese is secure as the starter. But in his next breath, he said Simms is "coming on. We're all the same in this business," Gruden said. "You're only as good as your last game."

That's something Losman might keep in mind after his heady debut. Griese knows what it's like to own the town one minute and be the town bum the next.

"Sometimes, when you don't win as much as you'd like, a lot of the blame goes to the quarterback," Griese said. "Right or wrong, that's just the way the game is. You don't really learn that until you have to go through it."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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