QB Brian Griese is third in the NFC in passer rating and will likely soon own the team's single-season record in that category
Chris Simms could get his second start of the season after all.
A right hip strain suffered on Sunday by Brian Griese has made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback of the previous 10 games a question mark for the 2004 season finale at Arizona next weekend. Thus Simms, the second-year passer who left his first career start on Oct. 10 with a shoulder injury, may get the call against the Cardinals.
After Sunday's 37-20 loss to Carolina, Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden reiterated that Griese, who is third in the NFC with a 97.5 passer rating, would remain the starter for the final game. However, at his press conference Monday morning, Gruden called Griese "a sore man" and conceded that the hip ailment could lead to a change in the last week.
"We'll see the significance of the injury," said Gruden. "Obviously, if [Griese] is hurt and he can't play, Chris would be the guy who would go. But I don't want to speculate any further. We'll see how Brian feels here in the next couple of days."
If the starting situation is a little cloudy early in the week, what is clear is that Gruden would not be making a change based on any dissatisfaction with Griese's performance. It's possible to find flaws in Griese's play, of course – that's true of almost any player on any team – and critics might point to the quarterback's six interceptions during the Bucs' three-game losing streak. Gruden, however, could point to 831 passing yards, seven touchdowns and a 69.9% completion percentage over the same span.
"I'm not going to stand up here and criticize him and hold him at blame for the loss yesterday," said Gruden of Griese's 30-of-41, 321-yard, three-touchdown, two-interception performance against Carolina. "He threw an interception – he got blindsided as he threw the ball. That, to me, means we've got to block better. The other interception he throws is a defensive lineman who stops rushing, tips the ball and makes a great play.
"When you throw the football, there are chances that something can go wrong. But we're going to continue to grind on high-percentage decision-making. He is throwing for 70% in 10 weeks; he's thrown 20 touchdown passes in  games. I'm going to accentuate the positive things that he's done, yet we're going to really grind on the negatives. We've all had our share of negative happenings this year, not just at that position."
Griese's passer rating, if maintained, would shatter the team's single-season record, set at 92.9 by Brad Johnson in 2002. Only two quarterbacks in the NFC have been more efficient: Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper (112.2) and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (103.8). He has produced yards and touchdowns at a pace that, had he also started the first four games, would have put him in position to break Johnson's single-season Buc records of 3,811 and 26, respectively. Griese's 20 touchdowns and 2,632 yards figure to 29 and 3,828 over a full, 16-game season.
"I'll say this: He is, at times, very, very good," said Gruden. "He has had a couple of interceptions here in the last three or four weeks. Some are very preventable and must be prevented by him through decision-making. Some, he's been victimized by circumstance. Sometimes when you get hit when you're throwing, there's not a hell of a lot you can do except to punt on third down. I'm going to continue to feel very strongly [about Griese]."
Of course, Gruden also feels strongly about Simms, which is why a switch for the 16th game, while not the original plan, would not qualify as a negative. Simms was quite impressive throughout the 2004 preseason and during the one quarter of play he got in before being injured in his first start. He suffered a left (throwing) shoulder sprain while being sacked by Saints defensive end Will Smith, and that created an opportunity for Griese, who seized it impressively.
In the end, the Bucs will finish the season with two promising and relatively young quarterbacks (Griese is 29), either of whom would give the team confidence going into 2005. That, as they say, is a good problem to have. It's also a good situation in the short run for the Buccaneers, having Simms available for this week's game if Griese is too sore to play.
"We're going to continue to develop Chris Simms and we're looking forward to having a fierce battle and competition," said Gruden. "That's what we'd like to see."
Two other Buccaneer starters suffered injuries during Sunday's game against the Panthers.
Left tackle Derrick Deese has a left foot sprain and, though the official injury report won't be formed until Wednesday, appears to be questionable for the season finale. Center Sean Mahan has a left quad strain and is a good bet to miss some practice time this week but is considered probable for the game.
It's possible that both teams will be without their starting left tackles on Sunday in Phoenix. Cardinals veteran Leonard Davis left Sunday's game against Seattle with a knee injury and it is believed that his season is finished. Deese, who is backed up by first-year man Anthony Davis, could miss his first game of the year.
Davis appeared in the season opener but has been inactive for all but one game since. He played extensively during the preseason while Deese was recovering from foot surgery and impressed the coaches with his strong work.
"He is a guy who has blossomed; had a very good preseason," said Gruden. "He is a guy who has done well and flourished on our practice field. There is a chance that he will be active and playing. We will see the status of Derrick Deese in a couple of days."
There were two occurrences in the kicking game during Sunday's game that hadn't been seen in a Buccaneer game for the better part of a decade.
When punter Josh Bidwell dropped a snap shortly before halftime and had the resulting delayed punt attempt blocked by Karl Hankton, it was the first punt block by a Buccaneer opponent since 1997. The last Buccaneer punter to have one of his kicks sent back in the wrong direction was Sean Landeta, who was blocked by the New York Jets' Raymond Austin on December 14, 1997.
In contrast, the Buccaneers' special teams units had blocked eight punts between Landeta's and Bidwell's blocks (including one in that same Jets game).
Even more rare was the missed extra point by Carolina kicker John Kasay after a fourth-quarter touchdown by the Panthers. That was the first missed extra point by a Buccaneer opponent since October 1, 1995. The kicker in that game – a Tampa Bay visit to Carolina – was John Kasay. In both cases, the kick went wide right.