Gruden: Simms doing 'fine'; may play again in '06

TAMPA, Fla. -- Chris Simms took hit after hit, responding
the way football players are taught.

He endured the pain and kept on playing.

"In the huddle, he was gasping for air," Buccaneers receiver
Michael Clayton said Monday, a day after the Tampa Bay
quarterback's spleen was removed following a 26-24 loss to the
Carolina Panthers.

"He'd call part of the [pass] routes, then gasp for air and
finish it. ... Everybody was saying: 'Chris, are you OK?' You could
tell he was fighting it."

Simms is out indefinitely, although coach Jon Gruden has not
ruled out his playing again this season.

In the meantime, rookie Bruce Gradkowski becomes the starter.
Tim Rattay will be the backup, and the Bucs will explore signing a
veteran to fill in as the No. 3 quarterback until Luke McCown comes
off the physically-unable-to-perform list.

The Bucs initially thought the 26-year-old son of Super
Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms had difficulty breathing
because of sore ribs and dehydration, but rushed him to St.
Joseph's Hospital when it became apparent the injury was more

"He got hurt early in the game and was able to complete the
first half. He went into the locker room, was diagnosed carefully
and had no symtoms whatsoever of a spleen injury," Gruden said.
"He got an IV. ... He was persistent about playing and was
confident he could fight through it."

It was not clear if Simms was hurt on a particular play or if
the injury resulted from an accumulation of blows. Gruden felt the
most damaging may have occurred late in the fourth quarter when
Carolina's Al Wallace hit Simms on a pass play and landed on top of
the quarterback.

Gruden thought Wallace should have been penalized for roughing
the passer. Two plays later, Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field
goal that gave Tampa Bay a 24-23 lead with five minutes remaining.

Simms attempted one more pass after that, overthrowing Joey Galloway on a deep route Gruden called on third-and-5 from the
Tampa Bay 25. A first down would have given the Bucs an opportunity
to burn more time off the clock.

Instead, the Panthers drove 48 yards in the final 1:41 to set up
John Kasay's winning field goal with 2 seconds left.

Despite dropping to 0-3, Gruden was encouraged by the way the
team battled back after trailing 17-0.

Simms was a big part of that, overcoming his seventh
interception in three games to give Tampa Bay the lead twice in the
second half.

"He's a tough guy. There's been people out there that have
questioned his toughness," Gruden said. "Those people hopefully
were silenced yesterday."

Gruden said he didn't learn Simms was in the hospital until he
was driving home from the stadium and received a call from the team
trainer. He visited the quarterback early Monday and found him in
good spirits.

"He's going to be just fine. ... His football career is in no
jeopardy," Gruden said.

"He said it's the first time he's ever been knocked out with a
sleeping pill and he didn't think it would work. ... He's a great
kid. He's obviously very frustrated, very disappointed that
physically he can't play."

Teammates were shaken when they learned Simms had surgery.

Some heard about it from television reports, while Simeon Rice --
who rarely reads the newspaper or watches NFL highlights on TV when
the Bucs lose -- didn't find out until he walked into the locker
room Monday.

"I just really had a sick feeling," center John Wade said.

"I didn't even know what a spleen was," rookie guard Davin Joseph said. "Talk about toughing it out for the team."

Clayton said anyone who knows Simms knows that's the type of
individual he is.

"No matter how hurt he is, he's going to want to play,"
Clayton said. "Sometimes that can work not in your best

Texas coach Mack Brown related a story about Simms facing
Nebraska in 2002, when the former Longhorns quarterback had an ugly
looking dislocated finger on his throwing hand. Simms went to the
sideline, had it popped into place and finished with 419 yards
passing, still a Texas regular-season record.

"He wouldn't let us pull him out of the game. He said 'Please
call timeout so they can pop it back in.' He didn't want to miss a
play," Brown recalled. "His competitiveness, his toughness, has
never been a question."