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Bucs Bench Dilfer


Tony Dungy wants no part of a musical quarterback system.

The Buccaneers coach benched Trent Dilfer as Tampa Bay's starter Monday and chose Eric Zeier as the "long term" replacement.

The move came a day after the Buccaneers (3-3) sputtered offensively in a 6-3 victory over the Chicago Bears. However, Dilfer has been under pressure to increase his production since last year.

"We looked at what gives us the best chance to win," Dungy said. "We haven't scored as many points as we'd like the last few weeks. It's not all the quarterback's fault, but we felt a change was in order right now and think it gives us the best chance."

Dilfer, whose streak of 70 consecutive regular-season starts will end when Zeier takes the first snap Sunday night at Detroit, was caught off-guard by the decision.

The Bucs are 27th in the NFL in total offense, and the sixth-year pro was just 16-for-27 for 121 yards against the Bears. However, he thought he recovered well enough from a season-opening debacle against the New York Giants to hold onto his job.

"I absolutely disagree with the decision. I think it's the wrong decision. I think I should be the starting quarterback of this football team," Dilfer said, declining to elaborate on why he thought he deserved to remain No. 1.

The sixth-year pro, two seasons removed from being selected for the Pro Bowl, has thrown three more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (six) and his quarterback rating of 66.3 ranks 12th in the NFC.

This is a critical season for Dilfer because the Bucs face a decision this winter on whether to exercise the option on the remaining two years of his contract.

Dungy wouldn't speculate on what the future holds for the quarterback. However, he did make it clear that the switch to Zeier is considered permanent.

"I don't like switching quarterbacks. I didn't anticipate changing. And I'm not going in anticipating another change," the coach said. "But at some point if it comes to our viewpoint that Eric doesn't give us the best chance, then we'll think about changing at that time."

Zeier, acquired in a trade last April, spent the first four years of his career with the old Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, who received a sixth-round draft pick from the Bucs.

He's appeared in 22 games, including 11 as a starter, and is familiar with the role of being the backup that fans call for when the reular quarterback falls into disfavor.

And while he's had some success, throwing for 3,231 yards with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, Zeier isn't making any promises about turning around the league's 29th-ranked passing attack.

"It's never just one person. I'm not going to go in and individually win football games for us. It's going to take everybody," Zeier said. "My job is just to put our team in a position to win games, make plays and to be careful with the football."

Zeier replaced Dilfer in the fourth quarter of the season opener, but couldn't move the team as the Bucs wound up losing 17-13 despite holding the Giants to just 107 yards and no touchdowns on offense.

New York returned an interception and a fumble by Dilfer for touchdowns, and also kicked a field goal after one of the quarterback's four turnovers.

Dilfer said he would be supportive of Zeier and vowed to do whatever he can to help the Bucs be successful, including preparing to take over again if his replacement struggles or is injured.

"The worst thing I could do right now is make a stink about this, and hurt this football team," Dilfer said. "It's a good team. It's a team that has a chance to do good things, and I want to be part of it."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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