TAMPA, Fla. - With the brim of a ball cap pulled down below his eyebrows and partially masking his raccoon look, quarterback Jeff Garcia stepped to the interview podium yesterday still battered since taking a crushing blow in an equally crushing home defeat Sunday against San Diego.
"My face has seen better days," Garcia said.
Sort of like Tampa Bay's playoff hopes.
The Buccaneers (9-6) surrendered control of their postseason chances in the last loss, meaning they must win Sunday against the Oakland Raiders (4-11) and pull for the Eagles to beat the Dallas Cowboys later in the day.
That combination would give Tampa Bay an NFC wild-card berth and extend Garcia's stint another game. A loss by the Bucs or the Eagles could be the fiery 38-year-old's swan song in pewter.
If not in any uniform.
"I can't deny that's crossed my mind," the former Eagles quarterback said.
The two-year, $7 million contract Garcia signed in March 2007 expires with this season. Dating from last spring - even after he helped guide the Bucs to an NFC South title and went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate - management has done little to make Garcia feel wanted beyond this season.
Despite heavy lobbying by his agent (and equally passionate work by Garcia with the media), the Bucs chose not to extend the quarterback's contract. Last summer, the team was a major player in the chase to trade for Brett Favre during training camp. And after one game, coach Jon Gruden benched Garcia for a month in favor of Brian Griese.
It hasn't exactly been a lovefest, but Garcia has persevered enough in 10 starts to complete 66 percent of his passes for 2,455 yards and 11 touchdowns, with five interceptions and a rating of 91.7. The tone of the season, however, has soured during the current three-game losing streak.
But if the Bucs beat the Raiders, they will finish 10-6 - just the seventh double-digit victory total in the franchise's 33-season history - and Garcia's two-year run will show a record of 14-9 and a nice fan club in the locker room.
"You want warriors in the foxhole with you," said wideout Antonio Bryant, another pending free agent. "Jeff is definitely a warrior."
Garcia wasn't exactly carried out of Raymond James Stadium on his shield Sunday, but he admitted that going home with stitches and bandages decorating his face for the second time in a month certainly had him contemplating his mortality as a football player.
"It makes me think. It makes my wife think," Garcia said. "But there is too much love for the game within myself. Granted, I want to still be able to walk and do things outside of football when the day comes for it to end.
"I feel there are a couple of more years."
And at least one more game.
"There are no guarantees for any of us about next year," Gruden said.
Many quarterbacks have played past their 38th birthday, but not many with the recklessness of Garcia, who still hasn't learned that slides are safer than headfirst dives.
"I love how he plays," said center Jeff Faine, who teamed with Garcia in Cleveland in 2004. "Always have, always will."
Sunday's outcome likely will determine whether the Bucs continue to enjoy it firsthand.
"I would love to continue playing with him," offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "Especially for about the next month or so."