Pounded, confounded
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 September 2006

Pity poor Chris Simms. He makes everybody want to put his hands up over his head when he cocks his arm to pass. Except the referees (who only do that when your team gets in the end zone).

It happened again Sunday when Simms had three more passes tipped at the line of scrimmage. He also threw three interceptions, including one that was returned 60 yards for a touchdown by Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister.

The result was a numbing 27-0 loss, the first home shutout in 10 years. It also broke an 11-game road losing streak for Baltimore. After the game, McAlister admitted Ravens defenders were aware of Simms nasty habit of having his passes batted down and made a conscious effort to get their hands up when he began his throwing motion. “Yeah, actually, he had the most balls knocked down last year for any quarterback in the NFL,” McAlister said of Simms, who had more than 5 percent of his attempts deflected at the line of scrimmage last season. We were very aware of it, our front line was, and they got their hands on a few of them today.”

On one occasion, Simms’ pass was deflected by blitzing linebacker Bart Scott into the arms of 340-pound defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who lumbered 60 yards before running out of steam at the Tampa Bay 9. That led to one of two Matt Stover field goals and left the Bucs trailing 17-0 at halftime.

Simms completed 17 of 29 passes for 133 yards, was sacked twice and threw the three picks to finish with a quarterback rating of 30.5. He was benched after the third interception and replaced by rookie Bruce Gradkowski with 7:17 remaining. “It never feels good,” Simms said of the benching. “That’s the plain and simple truth. I wanted to keep playing. (Coach Jon Gruden) just told me he wanted me to stay healthy and that the game was out of reach.”

Some of the blame for Simms’ tipped passes can be placed on the offensive line, which faced constant pressure without injured starting guards Davin Joseph and Dan Buenning. “It’s not just Chris, it’s everybody,” center John Wade said. “If it’s a three step (drop by Simms), they’re going to put their hands up. That’s just being a smart defensive player, that has nothing to do with Chris. As an offensive lineman, you’ve got to get their hands down any way you can. If that’s cutting them, if that’s grabbing their hands — there’s many things. But it’s not about Chris. We’ve got to help him.”

Simms and the offense didn’t get much help from their defense to start the game Sunday. Behind new quarterback Steve McNair, the Ravens went 80 yards on 14 plays and took a 7-0 lead on Jamal Lewis’ 4-yard run. The drive chewed 9:16 off the clock and helped limit the Bucs offense to seven plays in the first quarter.And that was before the wheels came off.

On the first play of the second quarter, Simms tried to force a pass to tight end Doug Jolley and McAlister intercepted, racing 60 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. “I was able to just react on the quarterback and make a play,” McAlister said. “It was a pass he never should’ve thrown.”

Of course, it would be unfair to lay the blame for Sunday’s loss solely at Simms’ feet. The Bucs never got a running game going. Cadillac Williams was held to 22 yards on eight carries and the Bucs totaled just 142 yards.

Part of the problem was the Bucs tried to run their offense in a phone booth. They utilized two tight ends, one receiver and two backs most of the game, limiting Simms’ targets and requiring the Ravens to defend an area about the size of your front yard. As a result, receiver Joey Galloway dropped the only catchable pass thrown his direction and Michael Clayton finished with three receptions for 34 yards. In fact, 15 of the 18 completions by Simms were to tight ends or running backs. “I mean, that was the game plan and we didn’t succeed,” Clayton said. “I felt we didn’t do a good job adjusting and they just kept coming at us.”

Once the Bucs fell behind, the Ravens attacked Simms like hungry Dobermans. After the game, there was talk of bouncing back at Atlanta Sunday. Some even mentioned that the Bucs also lost their home opener in 2002, the year they became Super Bowl XXXVII champions.

“It stinks, plain and simple,” Simms said. “They put it to us. You know, our defense gave us plenty of chances to get back in the game and I made mistakes. We got a little unlucky and ... they just whipped our butt.”

As for all those batted balls? “Again, I don’t know what to tell you,” Simms said. “It’s just one of those things right now everybody is talking about and everybody is reading it and I’m sure it’s not helping the situation.”