When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost quarterback Brian Griese to a season-ending knee injury, the question became whether erratic third-year pro Chris Simms could keep the club's early-season success going.
The early returns were not encouraging, as Simms committed three turnovers Sunday in his first start since Griese got hurt and the Buccaneers lost to the woeful 49ers in San Francisco, 15-10. The 49ers were coming off a 52-17 defeat to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field the week before and by game's end were down to their fourth quarterback, Cody Pickett.
The Buccaneers obtained veteran quarterback Tim Rattay from the 49ers before last month's NFL trading deadline, giving Coach Jon Gruden another option if Simms continues to falter. But Gruden isn't ready to make the move just yet. He said during his news briefing Monday that Simms remains the starter for Sunday's key NFC South matchup with the Carolina Panthers in Tampa. The Buccaneers, Panthers and Atlanta Falcons are tied for first place with 5-2 records.
"The schedule doesn't get any easier," Gruden said. "Our job is to do everything we can to help him. His job is obviously to make plays and move this football team and help us score and win games, and eliminate turnovers, negative plays, sacks. Those are areas that must be cleaned up in a hurry. And he'll be the quarterback this week again. Hopefully he can do that."
Simms completed 21 of 34 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers, but he threw interceptions on back-to-back third-quarter possessions that led to San Francisco field goals and lost a fumble late in the game. He was sacked five times.
"He had some reads that he routinely makes," Gruden said. "He had some throws that he normally routinely makes, and hits. We just didn't do that [Sunday]. He did do some good things but clearly we have a long way to go." . . . The Buccaneers also have to worry about getting rookie tailback Carnell (Cadillac) Williams going again. Williams had only 20 rushing yards on 13 carries against the 49ers on the heels of missing two games because of leg injuries. He played in only two games in October and ran for 33 yards on 24 carries after amassing 434 rushing yards on 88 carries in three games in September.
"I don't think it was just him," Gruden said of Williams's travails against the 49ers. "We need to do a much better job getting started. He got hit many times in the backfield, at or near the line of scrimmage. And no matter what kind of back you are, [that] is tough sledding."
The Miami Dolphins heard whispers during Williams's torrid NFL beginning that perhaps they had drafted the wrong Auburn tailback when they selected Ronnie Brown second overall in April. But now Brown has more carries (114 to 112), more rushing yards (544 to 467) and a higher average per carry (4.8 yards to 4.2) than Williams. . . .
Gruden said that defensive end Simeon Rice will return to the lineup against the Panthers. The Buccaneers sent Rice home from San Francisco without playing in the 49ers game, reportedly because he was late for a team meeting Saturday.
Rice was publicly critical of Gruden last year, saying the coach was giving his players too much leeway. But Gruden said that had no effect on his decision to send Rice home this past weekend.
"We met regarding his comments last year," Gruden said. "That whole situation is done and over with. The only thing that is going to be said here is, we feel we did something we had to do as a football team. And we're going to put this behind us and move forward. We don't like to do disciplinary actions. But sometimes that's what that world is all about. If you are going to have rules and things of that nature, you have to be restrictive and you have to be forceful in terms of how you apply them." . . . Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks suffered a strained hamstring against the 49ers, leaving his status for the Carolina game in doubt.
Pickett Likely To Start For Niners
Pickett is likely to become the fourth starting quarterback for the 49ers this season following Rattay, Alex Smith and Ken Dorsey. Pickett finished the Buccaneers game and probably takes over as the starter for this weekend's game against the New York Giants.
Rattay was traded to the Buccaneers after Smith, the top overall choice in this year's draft, was promoted to the starting job. But Smith has an ailing knee and Dorsey suffered a sprained ankle late in the win over Tampa Bay. Enter Pickett, who had been so eager to get on the field in some capacity that he'd been playing on the 49ers' special-teams coverage units. Pickett was a seventh-round draft pick last year out of the University of Washington.
The 49ers might seen a veteran quarterback as an insurance policy if neither Smith nor Dorsey is healthy enough for even emergency duty this weekend.
So much for linebacker Tedy Bruschi being eased back into the New England Patriots' playing rotation. Bruschi started at inside linebacker in Sunday night's victory over the Buffalo Bills. He also played on special teams, and was on the field for more than 70 plays in all in his first game since suffering a mild stroke in February. The Patriots will try to secure their first two-game winning streak of the season when they face the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts on Monday night in Foxborough, Mass. . . .
The Denver Broncos' coaches visited offensive lineman Dwayne Carswell in the hospital Monday and presented him with a game ball from Sunday's triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. Carswell is recovering from internal injuries suffered in a car accident last week and will not play again this season. . . .
According to NFL officials, it is unlikely that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson will be disciplined for his postgame conduct Sunday. Benson reportedly lunged at members of a camera crew and got into a verbal confrontation with a fan following his club's 21-6 defeat to the Dolphins in Baton Rouge, La. . . .
The New York Jets placed quarterback Chad Pennington, center Kevin Mawae and linebacker Eric Barton on the injured reserve list, ending the season for them. Pennington underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last month, but the Jets didn't place him on the IR list then because they had no pressing need for a roster spot. . . .
The Cincinnati Bengals placed safety Madieu Williams on IR. The University of Maryland product underwent shoulder surgery last week. The Bengals activated undrafted rookie guard Steven Vieira from the physically unable to perform list to fill Williams's roster spot. . . .
St. Louis Rams interim coach Joe Vitt underwent a minor heart procedure Monday morning and was back to work at the team's training facility by the afternoon. Doctors had scheduled an angioplasty but determined that wasn't necessary and reportedly performed a coronary angiogram, an exploratory procedure. Vitt has taken over for Mike Martz, who will not coach again this season while he's being treated for bacterial infection in his heart. . . .
An MRI exam of the injured knee of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin showed only a bone bruise, according to the team. It was not immediately clear how long he'll be sidelined.