K Matt Bryant injured his right hamstring on the opening kickoff of Sunday's game against Chicago
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden was optimistic about the health of kicker Matt Bryant on Monday morning, but left open the possibility that the team would have to bring in another kicker this week, at least for practice.
Bryant hurt himself executing the opening kickoff against Chicago on Sunday, incurring what Gruden referred to as a "slight right hamstring strain." Bryant finished the game, kicking off three times and booting one extra point and two field goal tries. The final attempt, a 29-yarder near the end of regulation, could have tied the game at 13-13 but sailed just a few feet wide right. It was only Bryant's second miss from inside 30 yards in 14 career attempts. Gruden conceded on Monday that the injury could have played a part in the miss, though he didn't think so at the time.
"He kicked off prior to that attempt very well," said Gruden. "And I was told it didn't bother him on field goal placements. It bothered him a bit when he kicked off. He does have a right hamstring strain. To some degree, maybe it did. He's a very good kicker. He's a great kicker. And obviously that hamstring could have played a role yesterday."
Bryant's health did not factor into Gruden's decision to punt from the Bears' 31-yard line early in Sunday's loss, however.
"No, I wouldn't have kicked it [regardless]," said the coach. "Wind was a factor. And field position obviously was a big factor on that position as well."
Bryant will receive treatment on Monday and Tuesday and the team will monitor his progress before deciding whether or not to bring in another kicker. Official injury reports are not required until Wednesday, when the team begins practicing for next Sunday's road game against the Saints.
The Bucs are hoping that Bryant will be able to play in that contest in Baton Rouge because they remain completely confident in the third-year kicker. Bryant has made 83.3% of his attempts as a Buccaneer so far (15 of 18) and was instrumental in securing several earlier wins for the team. Just a week earlier, he made a 45-yarder in the final minute of regulation to cap a comeback, 30-27 victory at Atlanta.
"Inside the 30, I think the percentage of making kicks is 95%, which is 19 out of 20," said Gruden. "But there is that one time out of 20 that you're going to miss. There is human error that is involved in every aspect of life, and that includes placekicking. Matt Bryant is a heck of a kicker, now. He's won us some games and by God he'll win us some more, provided he is healthy and able to continue doing what he's doing."
The Bucs were ecstatic after Bryant's game-winner in Atlanta, but had to put that victory behind them quickly in order to prepare for the Bears. The same is true of Sunday's loss. It was an agonizing way to go down, with a third straight late-game rally looking like a possibility, but it isn't the end of the road for the 7-4 Buccaneers.
"It was unfortunate, but that's the breaks of the game sometimes," said Gruden. "It's heartbreaking, it's gut-wrenching, it's demoralizing, but you wake up, it's another day here and we have a chance to win and be a part of this."
The Bucs have several other injury issues to watch this week, but overall the roster is as healthy as it has been in some time. The only new injuries to come out of Sunday's game against Chicago were Bryant's hamstring strain, linebacker Marquis Cooper's chest strain and tight end Alex Smith's left shoulder stinger. Cooper was undergoing additional evaluation on Monday to determine his availability for the week. Smith was able to come back into the game after his injury. Gruden believed that Smith would be probable on Wednesday's injury report, as would fellow tight end Anthony Becht, who played on Sunday despite a knee sprain.
Safety Will Allen could also return after missing the last two games due to injury. Allen suffered a bad knee bruise against Washington on November 13 and was unable to play against the Falcons or Bears. Gruden seem optimistic that the second-year safety, who has started seven games this season, would be in better shape this week.
"We're hoping to get him back this week, but we're going to list him as questionable at this time, said Gruden."
On the Rise
Though the Buccaneers lost on Sunday, they continued to gain confidence in quarterback Chris Simms.
Simms is in his third NFL season and his first extended stint as a starter, having taken over for the injured Brian Griese in the Game Seven. The Bucs are 2-3 in his five starts, but Simms has had four relatively strong games in a row after his initial struggles in San Francisco. In many ways, each game has been more impressive than the one before.
"I think he's getting better and that's clear as day, to us anyhow and people who are evaluating him," said Gruden. "He still has progress that he needs to make, but he is getting better and I think he's getting more comfortable, more acclimated to the speed of this game. We've got to do everything we can to help him. Play better around him and he'll be better because of that."
Simms was sharp for most of the game against Carolina on November 6, but that performance was mostly lost in a 20-point defeat. He then directed two straight fourth-quarter rallies in enormous wins over Washington and Atlanta, throwing only one interception in those two games and looking very poised in the pocket. On Sunday against the Bears, he faced the NFL's top-ranked defense and was under pressure much of the day – he was sacked four times and hurried on several other occasions – but was still on-target with most of his throws.
Chicago defenders came into the game second in the NFL in interceptions and had five picks in its last three outings, but they never came close to snaring any of Simms' 30 passes, of which he completed 19 for 202 yards. Simms threw a perfect downfield lob to Joey Galloway for a 39-yard gain in the first quarter and directed two impressive drives in the fourth quarter during the Bucs' rally.
"After studying the Chicago Bears as hard as we did last week, they're a stingy bunch," said Gruden. "He took some hits. He hung in there. The two drives that he completed in the fourth quarter were very, very positive. He showed toughness, made some great throws down the field and underneath, made a couple key changes."
Simms has raised his passer rating to 78.2, virtually the same as the 79.6 mark Griese put up before his injury. Simms' 7.38 yards per pass attempt would rank ninth in the NFL if he had enough pass attempts, and that number is an indication of how well he has thrown the deep ball since taking over the helm. The Bucs were disappointed in Sunday's loss, but the game did nothing to lessen their confidence in their new starting quarterback.
"I think he's getting better, I really do," said Gruden. "I was very proud of what he did yesterday."