Mr. Irrelevant` Gives Bucs Offense A Lift
All that stuff we talked about last week, about how the Bucs were dead and it was time to stick a fork in the season and play the kids - especially the left-handed quarterback - uh, never mind. Chris Simms actually did play Sunday, lasting nearly a whole quarter before he got flattened and knocked out of the game after a cardboard cutout named Todd Steussie missed a block.

So that left us with Brian Griese, who absolutely no one has been calling for to play. That's amazing, when you think about it. When a football team is winless, as the Bucs used to be, the backup quarterback is usually the most popular guy in town. First though, we'd have had to know he was in town. Circumstances took care of that one Sunday at the Superdome.

The Bucs' own Mr. Irrelevant was paroled from Camp Clipboard just in time to give this team a shot - a small one, anyway - at actually salvaging the season. ``Who He?'' threw 19 passes against the Saints and completed 16 for 194 yards and a touchdown. That means your Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a football game, 20-17. It's a good thing Jon Gruden lost his voice sometime during this one, so he was forced to merely concede, through tortured vocal chords, that Griese had played well and it's a shame Simms got hurt. ``We'll catch up later,'' Gruden promised.

Thanks for the warning. If the future was so blinding as to require eye protection, as Gruden suggested after a blowout loss at Oakland, today must look like a supernova. The Falcons lost Sunday for the first time and the Bucs picked a road division game to get their first win. Goofy as this seems, as ridiculous as it is to contemplate, they crawled back into the fringes of contention with this win. ``We're not out of it by a long shot,'' receiver Charles Lee said. ``In practice, you never could have guessed we were 0-4. We went at it hard. It's been a constant fight, and we know that. But it's a long season.''

Weird one, too. One thing is for sure - Gruden's offense works a lot better when the quarterback has a little mobility. No one will confuse Griese or Simms with Michael Vick, but both were able to move the team. Simms' rollout skills and powerful arm gave the Bucs the look of an almost competent offense while he was in there, which unfortunately wasn't very long.

Late in the first quarter, Saints defensive end Will Smith tossed Steussie aside and ran through his attempt at a block and pulverized Simms. Simms was done for the day, his left shoulder in pain. Steussie was done, too. Conclude what you will about that. The way this season has gone, who would have been surprised had Simms been declared lost for the season? Or if Griese came off the bench fumbling and throwing interceptions? But it never happened. He was poised, made good decisions, and the Bucs moved in ways we haven't seen this season. When tight end Ken Dilger broke free on the first drive of the third quarter, Griese hit him perfectly for a 45-yard touchdown. He was 12 of 14 for 152 yards and the TD in the second half. ``Hallelujah! You guys have something good to write about me now,'' Griese said afterward.

Indeed we do. Let's see if we still remember how. Simms is still the future for this team, but Gruden may have to rethink the whole youth movement idea for a while. Simms one day will take over the Bucs for good - assuming Steussie stays on the sideline - but for now Griese certainly has earned another shot. You may remember when Griese was the young guy everyone wanted to see. He was going to be a star in this league. He sat behind John Elway at Denver for a year, then was a starter for four seasons. Stardom never quite happened, and he was released last year and signed by Miami. His one season there didn't work out so well, so he once again shopped for a job last summer and wound up here.

No one was quite sure what Gruden was thinking with that move, since Simms is the future and - until Sunday anyway - Brad Johnson had a stranglehold on the starting job. But now we see why. He won't stretch the field like Simms, but he won't make a lot of mistakes and he'll keep the chains moving. On this day, that was enough. ``I've been around long enough to know not to get into the decision-making process,'' Griese said. ``I'm just going to continue to work hard. I know it's a cliche.''

This was just one win against a bad defensive team, so we'll put plans for a ticker-tape parade on the shelf for a while. But it's also a mediocre division, and if Atlanta comes back to the pack a little - the Bucs have two shots at the Falcons - this race could yet get interesting.

We'll try not to get ahead of ourselves though. We did that last week and look what happened. The safest bet is to forget the shades and stock up on earplugs. Gruden's voice will get better soon, and he's got all these things he's been dying to say about his quarterbacks. He'll get back to us on that one.

Joe Henderson The Tampa Tribune 11 October 2004