Culpepper's comeback on track as Dolphins trip Bucs

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Daunte Culpepper was more than ready for the
next logical step on his comeback trail.

The Miami quarterback took the first real hit since undergoing
knee surgery, then absorbed a second and a third while helping the
Dolphins to a 13-10 preseason victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
on Saturday night.

"It was beautiful to finally get a hit because everybody was
kind of waiting to see what would happen, what would be my
reaction," Culpepper said. "I think I handled it pretty well."

The eighth-year pro played into the second quarter, completing 7
of 9 passes for 86 yards and leading a nine-minute touchdown drive
after producing little offense on his team's first three

Culpepper played one series in Miami's preseason opener against
Jacksonville, completing one pass for 2 yards. This appearance
lasted 23 plays, 14 of them on the 70-yard march that Sammy Morris
finished with a 2-yard TD run.

Equally encouraging for the Dolphins (1-1) was the way Culpepper
got through the first true contact work he's had since tearing
three ligaments in his right knee while playing for the Minnesota
Vikings last season.

"I wasn't even worried about it. I'm worried about the next
play and what we've got to do to be successful," Culpepper said.

"I told myself that I was going to push myself as hard as I
possibly could before training camp even started so at the time
when I do start taking some hits I'd be ready for them

Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud and Anthony McFarland sacked Culpepper
on consecutive plays in the first quarter, with the first hit
causing a fumble that Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown recovered
at the Miami 18.

Ruud later tested the quarterback's mobility, chasing him out of
the pocket and forcing Culpepper to throw a pass that was ruled
intentional grounding when the ball failed to get back to the line
of scrimmage.

"I play the game a certain way -- to make plays, some with my
legs. Sometimes you get hit. That's football," Culpepper said.
"My knee's fine. I just thank God that everything's holding up.
I'm continuing to get stronger every day."

Chris Simms started at quarterback for Tampa Bay (1-1) and led a
field goal drive, followed by two three-and-outs. He completed 2 of
7 passes for 27 yards and was sacked twice, once by Dan Wilkinson,
the much-traveled defensive tackle who signed with Miami last

Wilkinson wasn't surprised that he was able to contribute
despite being in training camp for less than a week.

"I've been healthy, and I have been in good shape pretty much
my entire career," Wilkinson said. "I knew coming out here I was
ready to roll."

Joey Harrington, another of the Dolphins' newcomers, followed
Culpepper and was 8-of-15 for 81 yards. He led a pair of field goal
drives before being replaced by Cleo Lemon at the start of the
fourth quarter.

The Bucs made it close in the fourth when rookie Bruce
Gradkowski threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Edell Shepherd, who
slipped behind Dolphins first-round draft pick Jason Allen to trim
Miami's lead to 13-10.

Gradkowski had the Bucs on the move again, but a poorly thrown
pass glanced off Shepherd's hand and was intercepted by safety Jack
Hunt with just under 2 minutes to go.

"It went pretty well, but we didn't get the 'W,' and that's the
most important thing," Gradkowski said. "It's hard to swallow not
winning. We have to learn from it, build for next time and see what

Several Tampa Bay starters, including running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and receiver Joey Galloway on offense and
linebackers Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles and end Simeon Rice
on defense, sat out.

Defensive end Jason Taylor started for Miami after sitting out
last week's game with a back injury.

Game notes
Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft pick from Toledo, was
11-of-14 for 193 yards. He's thrown three TD passes in two games.
... Brown led Miami with 32 yards rushing on 7 carries. ...
Shepherd finished with three receptions for 93 yards.