Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pierson to Start for Injured Gruber

Despite all of the team's accomplishments on Sunday, including the Bucs' first NFC Central Division title since 1981, the first 11-win season in franchise history and a first-round playoff bye, Tampa Bay's celebration was lessened by the loss of T Paul Gruber. The 12-year veteran suffered a broken right leg in the third quarter yesterday and will miss the reminder of the season. Tampa Bay will host a playoff game in two weeks without its cornerstone at left tackle, the player who holds the team record with 183 games played.

"That, I think, put a damper on it for everyone," Bucs head coach Tony Dungy said regarding Gruber's injury. "Paul has been such a soldier here and played in so many games, so many losing seasons. To go this long and finally get into position to make a run, then get hurt in the last game, just seems unfair. But that is the nature of this business."

Sixth-year pro Pete Pierson, who has six career starts and has seen action in 69 games, will replace Gruber at left tackle. Dungy noted that Pierson did a solid job in the fourth quarter during Tampa Bay's final touchdown drive.

"Pete did well," Dungy said. "Pete plays pretty well any time we put him in the game. He just hasn't gotten the opportunity to play very much because Paul has been so durable. But Pete did a good job and was really a big part of the fourth quarter drive."


Defensive tackle Brad Culpepper suffered a right foot sprain in the second quarter and did not return. Dungy said Culpepper tore a small tendon and should be ready to practice next week in preparation for the divisional playoff game. Rookie Anthony McFarland replaced Culpepper at defensive tackle. LB Hardy Nickerson (hip pointer) and TE Patrick Hape (right ankle sprain) also suffered injuries against the Bears, but neither appear serious.

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