Gathering storm aims at Simms
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 18 September 2006

The noise will blow in from the north, as nasty and mean as a gathering storm. You have heard the sound before, like gnashing teeth, and you have seen its fury up close. Soon, it will turn ugly. Bolt your doors and shutter your windows. Chris Simms, repeat offender, was dreadful again.

The howls have begun, and by the time you read this, they will have turned deafening. The fans of Tampa Bay are about to fall out of love with the kid quarterback. Soon, they will call for a trial separation. On an afternoon when the Bucs showed multiple versions of awful, in a game in which there was plenty to be embarrassed about, Simms was the worst offender. Once again, the quarterback the Bucs expected to lead them to a better day has led them nowhere at all.

Against the Falcons, it was as if last year never existed, as if Simms had never started a game and never thrown a pass and never delivered a highlight. An eighth of the season has passed, and here’s the box score: Two games, two losses and too painful to watch.

The veteran quarterback hunters among you probably recognized the futility. Simms was as scatter-armed as Vinny Testaverde in 1988, and his offense was as impotent as Chris Chandler’s in 1990, and his decisionmaking was as foggy as Trent Dilfer’s in 1998. In other words, you have seen this before.

If you remember properly, it was homely then, too. Three points in two games, and why wouldn’t there be noise? Two losses in two weeks, and why shouldn’t Jon Gruden have to answer questions about his quarterback’s security?

The last time the Bucs opened the season with two losses and no offensive touchdowns, the quarterback lasted only 15 plays into the second game before he was benched. That was Brad Johnson, who had won a Super Bowl. And by the time the Bucs fell to 0-4, Johnson was strapped to the bench with a seatbelt. The new kid was a quarterback who had never thrown an NFL pass. A kid named Simms.

This is Gruden, remember? This is a coach who demands a lot from his quarterbacks, and much of it, he wants now. When he sees something he doesn’t like in a quarterback, it has not taken his eyes long to wander. Yet, he offered this Sunday: “I’m not contemplating a quarterback change at this time. I’m just not. But I’ll address the future of the quarterback situation as we move forward.”

Quarterback coach Paul Hackett was even more emphatic: “Simms is our quarterback … period.”

For the Bucs, this has to be the decision, because they made it months ago. They made it in February and again in March and again in April, when a lot of quarterbacks went from one team to another and the Bucs stayed with a pat hand. Even then, a team has to ask itself: What if the quarterback gets off to a terrible start? Even then, the Bucs had to answer: “We’ll ride it out with Simms.” If that was the answer then, then it has to be the answer now.

After two games, perhaps it is fair to say that the Bucs made too strong a conviction based on too small a sample. Simms had only 12 starts, only seven victories. It is amazing that a quarterback analyst such as Gruden went without a proven backup.

In other words, there would be a quarterback controversy now if the rest of the contestants were more attractive. For now, they are not. We know too little about Bruce Gradkowski and too much about Tim Rattay to turn the season over to either. Still, you might want to stay tuned. “I made some dumb plays,” Simms, 26, said. “I was disappointed in myself. I felt like I let my teammates down. I put us in a hole, 14-3.”

Simms said he would give himself a grade of C-minus for the two games. Of course, you may have a different grade at home. Against the Falcons, Simms threw three interceptions. Again. He had repeated passes batted back in his face. Again. His offense scored zero touchdowns. Again. Once, Ike Hilliard was open in the end zone, and Simms missed him. Heck, he almost missed the stadium. He missed Joey Galloway deep. He missed Alex Smith short.

After two games, frankly, the Bucs miss the way Simms played during the second half last year. You remember, don’t you? Simms was pretty good , and former NFL quarterbacks Ron Jaworski and Joe Theismann were comparing him favorably to Ben Rothlisberger and Eli Manning. He looked more confident then, more decisive, more dangerous.

So what’s the difference between then and now? “This year, he’s throwing the ball to the other team,” Hackett said. “Last year, that’s one thing he didn’t do. He didn’t do it in training camp, and he hasn’t done it in practice. Last week and this week, he threw interceptions that led to touchdowns on horrendous decisions.’’

In Simms’ defense, you should remember this: When he was playing well last year, the Bucs were also a very good running team and were playing lights out on defense. Neither of those is the case this year. And if that doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback.

Still, NFL coaches are not known for their patience. If you watch Gruden on the sideline, it isn’t hard to see him growing impatient. “I’m sure he is,” Simms said. “He wants to win. I want to win. Hopefully, he hasn’t lost confidence in me.”

Confidence is like old memories, however. Both of them can erode with time. Once, Gruden had confidence in Brad Johnson, too. Remember this quote? “Sometimes, you try to inject life in your team by putting a new quarterback in. We thought he would give our team a jolt and change the dimension of the game.”

That was what Gruden said two years ago when he changed quarterbacks. Unless Simms finds his game, you may hear an echo soon.