Simply awful
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 18 September 2006

It’s pretty obvious that the Bucs players felt just awful about Chris Simms taking all the blame for last week’s embarrassing defeat in the season opener. It was unfair for one man to have that much on his slim shoulders. So on Sunday against the Falcons, Simms’ teammates finally did something about it. They joined him.

Simms still played stinky, throwing three more interceptions and having four more passes batted down in the Bucs’ 14-3 loss to the Falcons. But at least he wasn’t the only one who needed a shower. The Bucs offense failed to get into the end zone for the second straight week and have the fewest points after two games since the inaugural 1976 Tampa Bay team that lost every game. The Bucs’ three points also are the fewest in the league.

The defense allowed the Falcons to rush for 306 yards, the most in Bucs history. Let that register a minute. Former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn had 134 yards on the ground, and quarterback Michael Vick rushed for 127 yards. And Matt Bryant missed two of three field goals. (He was trumped by Falcons kicker Michael Koenen, who missed three with one blocked.)

The defeat left the defending NFC South champions 0-2 heading into Sunday’s game against surprisingly winless Carolina at Raymond James Stadium. “We’re in a big hole, and we’ve got to get out the big shovel and dig,” Derrick Brooks said.

But after the game, Jon Gruden didn’t know where the excavation should start. “Which one of the three do you want to talk about?” Gruden asked rhetorically.

Start with Simms, whose passer rating of 39.9 is the worst among NFL quarterbacks. Much of the same problems that plagued him in last week’s 27-0 loss to Baltimore returned Sunday. Simms was late on some throws, missed several others for what could have been touchdowns and turned the ball over in the red zone. Not that he got much help. Cadillac Williams was limited to 37 yards on 15 carries.

But after two weeks, the only thing Simms has been consistent at is falling on the sword. “I’m just disappointed in myself. I feel like I let my teammates down,” Simms said. “”And I feel like I put us in the hole 14-0 again with the first interception. And the last one, Joey (Galloway) was open. I just didn’t throw a good ball. I missed the throw and (cornerback) DeAngelo Hall came back and intercepted it.”

Gruden was visibly upset with Simms’ performance. He chewed him out on numerous trips to the sideline, followed him to the bench on a couple of other occasions and nearly dropped to his knees after one of his four deflected passes prevented a first-down completion to a wide open Galloway (nine catches, 161 yards). The story wasn’t much better on the defensive side of the ball.

Vick confounded the Bucs with an option play, keying on the Bucs’ ends and keeping the ball whenever they pinched inside on the fake handoff to Dunn. “I mean, it’s almost like a college play,” defensive end Greg Spires said. “And we weren’t prepared for that. I don’t know why. We didn’t adjust early in the game like we should have.”

Actually, it was exactly like a college play. In fact, Falcons offensive coordinator Greg Knapp watched the bowl games and decided to implement the option attacks used by Texas and West Virginia. If it was good enough to win a national championship for the Longhorns and Vince Young, imagine what it would do for Vick.

“We talked about it right after the season last year,” Falcons general manager Rich McKay said. “We saw the bowl games. We went to dinner one night, and (Knapp) kind of said that’s what he was going to do and so forth. We wanted to run it and see how it would work. It’s just a complimentary piece to an already good attack.”

Vick averaged more than 9 yards per rush gained at least 12 yards on seven of his 14 carries. He also was efficient passing, going 10-of-15 for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “They had No. 7 out there looking like Superman,” cornerback Ronde Barber said. “And we were not his kryptonite like we’ve been in the past.”

The Bucs also were a bit unlucky. One of Simms’ interceptions on a pass to tight end Alex Smith in the end zone was deflected off the leg of a defender and into the arms of cornerback Jason Webster. And just before the end of the first half, Simms overthrew Ike Hilliard, who was alone in the end zone. The Falcons were called for holding Hilliard on the play, and Simms said he had decided to chuck the ball out of bounds before spotting his receiver at the last second.

Then there were the deflections that are driving Simms batty. “I changed my arm angle, and they still got it,” Simms said. “I think it’s just being talked about a lot, and the other team we’re playing is reading it and they’re becoming aware of it. It’s just one of those things right now. I have no answer for it.”

So what will it take for the Bucs to get rolling? “I think we’ve just got to get that first touchdown,” Simms said. “That first touchdown will take a whole load off our offense. We can’t continue to depend on our defense. We can’t get down to the 5-yard line and not come away with touchdowns. It’s heartbreaking.”

At least there are 52 other hearts breaking along with his this morning.