Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 25 September 2006|
Jon Gruden was in his post-game news conference talking about all the hits Chris Simms took Sunday, unaware as he spoke that his quarterback was being loaded into an ambulance.
Simms, 26, had emergency surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital to have his ruptured spleen removed after the Bucs' 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Bleeding internally, he needed several transfusions to stabilize his condition. Gruden said Monday the injury will likely end the season for Simms, who is expected to remain in the hospital until the end of the week.
While it might never be known what went on inside Simms' chest during Sunday's three-hour game, Gruden said Monday the Bucs medical staff examined Simms after every series.
A day later, Gruden believed he identified the critical blow.
"I believe he got hit late in the game in the red zone, fourth quarter," Gruden said. "I believe it was a situation where he was hurt on that occasion. But it's a credit to this guy. He is extremely tough, mentally and physically. And again, I'm just very pleased that our medical staff was able to handle his situation after the game, immediately, and that he's going to be okay. It's a credit to him, it really is, for being a tough human being."
The Bucs originally thought Simms suffered bruised ribs after a hit early in the game and he complained of difficulty breathing.
Simms was sandwiched on a pass attempt to Michael Clayton by Panthers defensive lineman Kris Jenkins and linebacker Thomas Davis. After the play, he bent over at the waist for several seconds and rested his hands on his knees. It's also the play in which Carolina coaches, who watched the film Monday, believe Simms was hurt.
Simms took several more blows in the second half, including one from linebacker Adam Seward, who upended Simms on his 2-yard touchdown run.
"He got hurt early in the game and was able to complete the first half," Gruden said. "He went into the locker room, was diagnosed carefully and had no symptoms whatsoever of a spleen injury."
At the end of the third quarter, Simms dropped to one knee, and in obvious pain, had to be attended to on the field. He was taken to the locker room by team doctor Joe Diaco, who examined him. Diaco was not available for comment in keeping with the Bucs policy that medical personnel cannot be interviewed.
The Bucs believed Simms was suffering from dehydration and gave him intravenous fluids.
"Our doctors, our medical staff checked him carefully; his abdomen, his chest, and he showed no symptoms whatsoever of any spleen injury, of any bleeding or anything of that kind," Gruden said. "So we felt he had a case of sore ribs. Like many quarterbacks, like many football players, they've been able to push through it and finish a game. But I think that's a lot of it right there."
Gruden said he believed Simms suffered the spleen injury after a hit in the fourth quarter by defensive lineman Al Wallace, who landed on top of him. On the next play, Simms handed off to Cadillac Williams.
While Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 24-23 lead with 5:01 to play, on the sideline, the Bucs medical staff treated Simms by draping a cold, wet towel over his head and applying an icepack to the back of his neck. Later, an icepack was placed on his head.
Simms played another series after that. Gruden, who said he believed Wallace should have been called for roughing the passer, indicated the Bucs didn't discover the severity of Simms' injury until at least 20 minutes after the game. "Actually, it was during my press conference after the game," Gruden said. "As I was addressing the media, he was rushed to the emergency center. So at that time was the first time that there was any noticeable signs, I guess, of this spleen injury."
On Monday, Simms rested comfortably in stable condition, hooked to a morphine pump. Doctors say it will take at least four to six weeks for Simms to recover from surgery and Gruden said he is approaching it as if Simms will be out for the rest of the season. "My information tells me that potentially he is out for the season because of the injury of this magnitude," he said. "To do the right thing, it might not be wise to ask him to come back and play in Week 13 or 14."
The Bucs will turn to rookie Bruce Gradkowski, who has thrown just six passes. Veteran Tim Rattay will back up the sixth-round pick from Toledo. Gruden said the Bucs may sign another quarterback until Luke McCown is ready to come off the physically unable to perform list.
Gruden visited Simms on Monday morning and said he was 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."
Bucs players were shaken when they learned of the severity of Simms' injury.
"It's part of the job. Race car drivers get behind the wheel and they put that metal to the ground and go," said linebacker Ryan Nece. "They know that death is possible when you're driving a car that fast. We know that severe injuries, internal bleeding, punctured lungs, ruptured spleen can happen.
"It (stinks) when it happens to one of your own players. It makes it real. When it's away from you it's not as real and you become desensitized to it. But when it happens to someone you know and care about, that makes it a lot harder to swallow."