Lights outThis pretty much says it all... which won't keep me from running my keyboard about it, naturally.
The Bucs season seems to be pretty much over. How many teams have ever gotten to the playoffs after dropping their first three games? I don't know. But it can't be many. And for a Bucs team that has been playing as crappy as this year's has, well, it doesn't seem very likely they're going to surprise anyone.
The first two games were dreadful. I watched them both at a nearby sports bar; or, rather, I watched the first halves, and then, unable to bear watching any longer, I went home, and checked in a few hours later to confirm that yes, indeed, no thermodynamic miracles had occurred; yes, indeed, the huge leads the Bucs opponents had piled up in the first half hadn't been whittled down... in fact, in the first game of the season, against the Ravens, the Bucs didn't manage to score at all.
In the second game, against the Falcons, the Bucs managed a field goal.
Chris Simms, the Bucs young quarterback whom I've admired for several seasons now, and whose presence at the helm was the big reason I was looking forward to this season so much, wasn't showing me a goddam thing. None of the rest of the team had distinguished themselves, either. I'd been telling myself all summer that with Williams, Clayton, Pittman, Simms, Galloway, and Alstott all on defense, the Bucs had as good a chance as anyone to make a play off run... but they sure weren't backing me up.
The third game... well, in many ways, it seems like this could well be the last game of the Bucs season, this season. And the best. Although the Bucs lost, for much of the game, they actually looked like a division champion (which they are) and Chris Simms actually looked like a champion quarterback (which he is).
Naturally, this was the game I didn't get to see, because the local sports bar didn't schedule it. Hard to blame them. Both teams coming in, the Panthers and the Bucs, were 0-2... not exactly a barn burner.
As it turns out, many commenters seem to feel this was the best game played yesterday. For many reasons. I wish I'd seen it.
After a dismal first quarter, in which the Bucs were buried under a 17-0 Panthers lead, Simms led the offense into a turn around. Throwing for one touchdown and running for a second, Simms took some hard shots, but got the Bucs back into the game. When the defense forced three turnovers in the second and third quarters, the Bucs capitalized on them with three scores -- another touchdown and two field goals.
The whole time, nobody knew it, but Chris Simms was playing with a busted spleen. That touchdown he ran in? A gigantic Panthers defender hit him like a freight train at the end of it. This is what defenders like to do in football; when an offensive player dares to put his hands on the ball, has the temerity to try to do anything against the defense, much less succeed -- the defender punishes him for it. They train in it. It's their attitude. You go up against me, they say, I'm gonna hurt you for it, and I'm gonna hurt you worse if you actually score on me. In the insanely mana-a-mano, testosterone poisoned world of the National Football League, this attitude -- which at best one would have to call unsportsmanlike, at worst, actively homicidal -- is not only common, it is encouraged, and taught by defensive mentors to young defensive players.
So a Panthers defender punished Chris Simms for running the football over the goal line, and Simms wound up with a broken spleen, although nobody knew it, not even Simms himself.
Let's look at the game just through the lens of what the stats-keepers call the quarterback rating. I have no clear idea how they come up with a quarterback rating; it has something to do with the number of passes attempted, the number completed, the number of first downs gained, the number of yards gained by passes, the number of passes dropped, the number intercepted, the number of sacks the quarterback takes. In Simms first quarter against the Panthers yesterday, his quarterback rating was zero. Life don' ged much worse than that.
Simms had a rating of 111.9 in the second quarter. He had an 88.2 in the third, and a 106.7 in the fourth.
He left the huddle late in the game. Took two shaky steps towards the sidelines. Went to one knee, then down on his face in the chewed up turf. Got helped to the locker room, where they gave him an IV, because they thought he was cramping due to dehydration.
He missed two plays, total. Came back in. Led the Bucs to another score; a field goal that put them in the lead by 1 point, with a little over two minutes left on the game.
The Bucs vaunted defense, last year's League best, blew it. They couldn't hold. They let the Panthers drive all the way up the field and kick a game winning field goal with 2 seconds on the clock.
Chris Simms got into an ambulance, went to the hospital, had his spleen removed. He's out for at least six weeks, although if you read between the lines of Jon Gruden's statements since, he's never coming back. Gruden has never liked Simms, and now, he's got an excuse to get rid of Simms for good. He'll put in rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski, until he can trade for another veteran, and when Gradkowski can't produce, he'll put up whatever sorry ass third string ten year man he's managed to pull off waivers, and the sorry ass third string guy won't do shit either. But Gruden dislikes rookies, and likes experienced quarterbacks, and now, he's got the chance to get one.
I'd like to think that Bruce Gradkowski has a shot, that he can turn the season around, that he can be a star. But it isn't very likely... in fact, given how little and how grudging the support is that a rookie quarterback can expect from the Bucs head coach, I'd say it's virtually impossible.
Chris Simms will almost certainly be playing for another team next season... maybe as a starting QB, maybe as a back up.
Maybe I'll be rooting for another team next season, too.