A sore thumb didn't keep QB Chris Simms out for any snaps against the Patriots
Chris Simms took a pounding on Saturday in Foxborough, but it shouldn't keep him out of next weekend's critical game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Simms was sacked seven times by the New England Patriots, at least once on a play where he was hit without warning from behind. He also took shots after several passes that he did get off, and at one point in the game he could be seen grabbing the thumb on his left hand.
An injury to Simms' throwing hand would obviously be a serious concern, but he was able to throw the ball without problem even after that incident.
"He's sore," said Head Coach Jon Gruden on Sunday. "He suffered a left thumb sprain [but] he was able to throw the ball. I'm sure he's a bit sore today. He took a lot of hits yesterday. We think he'll be ready to go for this game."
Simms has started the last eight games and helped the Bucs to a 9-5 record, with two remaining home games against division opponents Atlanta and New Orleans. The Falcons come to town on Christmas Eve day for a game that could decide both teams' playoff fates. When the Bucs and Falcons last met, in Atlanta on November 20, Simms completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards and one interception as the visitors pulled out a 30-27 comeback victory.
Simms, notably, was not sacked in that game. The Bucs are 4-4 in Simms' eight starts this season and his protection has been one of the key differences between winning and losing. In the four wins, Simms took a total of two sacks; in the four losses he was sacked 22 times.
Fortunately for the Bucs and their hopes against the Falcons next Saturday, the young quarterback has proved to be quite tough. Still, Gruden admitted that constant pressure of the variety that New England put on Simms Saturday can throw any passer off his game.
"It can make a veteran quarterback [skittish]," said Gruden. "It can make me skittish on the sideline. He took too many hits. Obviously, we got into the kind of game that we didn't want to get into. Unfortunately, we were unable to pass-protect better yesterday."
New England employs a 3-4 defensive base, which can sometimes be confusing for an offense that doesn't see that alignment often. San Francisco got five sacks out of the same scheme. However, the Bucs, who had handled Carolina's formidable pass rush very well the week before, felt as if they were prepared for the Patriots' blitzing linebackers coming into the game.
"Yes, [the protection problems] were surprising," said Gruden. "They didn't go real deep into their playbook to create any awkward or new blitzes that we haven't seen. We just got whipped in some particular instances. We paid for that yesterday. We're disappointed. We think we can do much better than that, but you don't get do-overs in this business. Hopefully, we can show some resolve and come back much better next week."
The Bucs will not produce an official injury report until the middle of the week, but Simms wasn't on the initial list of injuries that Gruden read to begin his press conference on Sunday morning. The lead name on that list is the same as it was a week ago: defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. It appears as if McFarland will miss a second consecutive game next weekend.
The Bucs have actually played most of the last two games without their starting under tackle, as McFarland suffered a hamstring injury on the seventh play of the Bucs' 20-10 win at Carolina on December 11. Gruden referred to McFarland as "doubtful" on Sunday, though no official designation will be released until the injury report is submitted.
Between the fairly certain diagnoses of Simms and McFarland there is the uncertain status of right tackle Kenyatta Walker, who protects Simms' back. Walker sustained a right knee sprain during Saturday's game in Foxborough. He and tight end Anthony Becht, who missed part of the New England game with a right ankle sprain, are question marks as the Atlanta week begins.
"[Walker] will be evaluated later today," said Gruden. "His status right now is up in the air. Anthony Becht sprained his right ankle. He does have some swelling. I can't say whether or not he'll play or not play in this upcoming game, but we'll let you know in a couple of days."