QB Chris Simms can look forward to a long career in the NFL
The most important question regarding Chris Simms following the spleen injury he suffered in Sunday's game against Carolina was answered that evening: Simms, married father of one, had successful surgery and will return to complete health.
The next question, that of Simms' future in the NFL, was answered on Monday morning. During his day-after-the-game press conference, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden confirmed that the fourth-year quarterback will definitely be able to continue his playing career.
"He's going to be just fine," said Gruden, who visited Simms in the hospital on Monday morning. "He's in good spirits. We're just very fortunate, and very happy that he's going to be okay. His football career is in no jeopardy."
Simms suffered a ruptured spleen during the Buccaneers' last-second, 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. Immediately after the game, he was transported to the nearby St. Joseph's Hospital, where a spleenectomy was performed. Gruden said that Simms is likely to spend three or four more days in the hospital, and that there is no rush to get him back on the field.
That, of course, leads to the third question: Will Simms return to action this season?
Gruden said that answer will depend on forthcoming medical evaluations, but that Simms would definitely be out for several weeks. In fact, Gruden is already considering the strong possibility that his starting quarterback will be out for the balance of the year.
"My information tells me that potentially he is out for the season because of the injury of this magnitude," said Gruden. "To do the right thing, it might not be wise to ask him to come back and play in Week 13 or 14. Those are thoughts that are in my mind, to make sure this man heals correctly and has a chance to come back and play at full speed like he's capable of playing."
Simms, of course, is eager to return. During Gruden's Monday morning visit, the 26-year-old quarterback wanted to talk shop, such as his third-down incompletion late in the game on a deep pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway.
"The first thing he says is, 'I missed [Joey] Galloway on a go route on the five-yard line,'" said Gruden. "He loves football. He loves it. He's crushed emotionally right now that he's not going to be able to continue to play. And that's what he's talking about, missing Galloway on a go route, disappointed we didn't win the game. He's obviously very frustrated and very disappointed that physically he can't play.
"He wants to play this week, but he won't, and he won't play next week. We're just going to take a good look at this rehab, this recovery period, and do what our doctors deem is the right thing to do. He's a young quarterback. He's got an injury here that's serious, that he's going to recover from, and how quickly he recovers remains to be seen. All we can do now is support him and move on with this season."
Rookie Bruce Gradkowski, a sixth-round pick out of Toledo, becomes the starter in Simms' absence, and seventh-year veteran Tim Rattay moves into the primary backup role. The team is also anticipating the return of third-year man Luke McCown, who is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Simms took several hard shots during the Carolina game, which the Panthers won on a 47-yard field goal with two seconds left in the game. He had pain in his torso and some shortness of breath beginning in the first half, which may have been the result of a hard hit he took while throwing the ball away. However, the team believes the serious injury occurred as the result of another rough hit he took from defensive end Al Wallace after completing a short rollout pass to Mike Alstott.
Gruden did not believe the exact moment of the spleen injury could be pinpointed for certain.
"I would say no," he said. "I do know he got hit early in the football game and was complaining about his ribs. We checked him on the sidelines, as I say. We checked him in the third quarter when he went into the locker room and all signs were negative. I believe he got hurt late in the football game – that's what we're pointing to – on a bootleg situation down around the nine-yard line.
"We thought he got hit in the ribs, and that's what we checked him for when he went into the locker room. That's what he was complaining about. Our doctors, our medical staff checked him carefully, his abdomen, his chest, and he showed no symptoms whatsoever of any spleen injury, of any bleeding or anything of that kind. So we felt he had a sore case of the ribs. Like many quarterbacks, like many football players, they've been able to push through it and finish a football game."
"I'm just very pleased that our medical staff was able to handle his situation after the game, immediately, and that he's going to be okay. It's a credit to him, it really is, for being a tough human being."
In fact, Simms played much of the game in some discomfort from early hits, even if they were unrelated to the spleen injury. In addition to absorbing one sack and several hits in the pocket, Simms also dived in the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown over linebacker Adam Seward, landing hard on his side and back as he came down.
"There have been people out there who have questioned his toughness, and those people hopefully were silenced yesterday," said Gruden of Simms. "He showed a tremendous amount of grit. It's been a tough few weeks for us, for him personally. Not only did he show tremendous physical toughness, but he showed tremendous mental toughness yesterday. Behind 17-0, he brought our team back, gave us the lead twice, and it's a credit to him. I'm really proud of him."
In the end, the lead question above is the one that really counts. Obviously, attention will now turn to Simms' recovery and the possibility of his return this season. That answer may take a few more days to reveal itself.
"Yeah, it's possible [Simms could return this season]," said Gruden. "Whether or not that's the direction we want to go remains to be seen. I think it all depends on the next couple of weeks, honestly, and what we think is best for his future, physically. We'll get all the information and respond accordingly.
"I'm just very happy that he's going to be okay."