Bring A Chair: Panic Room Filling Up Fast
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 20 September 2004

The panic room is open. It was hard to tell Sunday who was the biggest deer in the headlights - Chris Simms, the new Bucs quarterback, for now; or Jon Gruden, who threw him to the Seahawks. You could have mounted either of them on a wall. They were both rattled and red- faced after Gruden unceremoniously yanked Brad Johnson from the second quarter of the Bucs' second game, which picked up where Washington left off, even gathering momentum after Simms' exuberance and playmaking ability was confounded by youthful mistakes in a 10-6 loss to Seattle. A new beginning? Or the beginning of the end?

With and without Johnson, there are still no touchdowns. How bad was it? The Bucs' attempted winning drive consisted of 39 yards in Seattle penalties and a pair of Simms interceptions, the first of which was waved off by a penalty; and the second of which, the game-ender, came despite Bucs protests that Simms threw that bonehead pass after he was tackled to the ground. His knee was down! Praying for a sack. The new-look offense. ``It's a crisis right now,'' Gruden said.

Finally. We are two games in and already this season has a ghostly pallor. It's conceivable this team could be 0-6 in four weeks. The Devil Rays outscored the Bucs on Sunday. OK? Now throw in a quarterback ``situation.'' That's what Gruden calls it. And make no mistake: The situation is fluid. Gruden probably will sleep on it. A bed of nails would be more comforting. He could stick with Simms and pull his hair out. He could go back to Johnson and be accused of flip- flopping by John Kerry. He could have Doug Williams fitted for a jersey. Who knows where his mind is at?

Yes, Gruden and the Bucs look that lost, that desperate, that panicked, and just in time for the magical trip to Oakland and national TV, all that lunacy and subplot. Wonder who Sapp would start at QB? Let's ask. We interrupt this column to bring you a word from Coach: ``I love Brad Johnson.''

Gruden loved the man who quarterbacked a Super Bowl season so much that he let him play almost five minutes into the second quarter of the home opener before pulling him. It was a graceless move. And a panic move. Frankly, I thought the Bucs would give up on Brad only after they'd given up on the season. Well ...

This offense's problems go far beyond quarterback. The Bucs are vulnerable all over. Simms was sacked, too. Simms threw 4-yard passes on third-and-6, too. Simms lacks go-to guys, too. Yes, his 35-yard missile to Charles Lee is a world away from Johnson's first-quarter moon ball that you could have run under and picked off, just like that Seahawk did. But Simms' growing pains are real. It's just a matter of whether Gruden's ego, and stomach, can take them. Simms might be the best guy to make touchdowns at the moment. But he's also the best bet to blow up. Gruden saw it all Sunday.

Which brings us to the Bucs' dilemma. They can't live in denial anymore. Simms at quarterback says, to one and all, that this team needed to take a step back in the offseason to go forward. And it didn't. Because ``rebuilding'' is a four- letter word to Gruden and GM Bruce Allen. Why do you think they wanted veteran sluggo Brian Griese to step up? Because to accept Simms as your starting quarterback is to admit you're starting over. And that your offseason moves made no sense. All those veteran pickups made in the name of one more shot. And a kid at the helm. No sense.

This petrified rock was built for a veteran QB, not a youngster learning on the run. You've got a speed quarterback armed with the oldest, slowest outfit in the NFL. Simms is clearly the future. But if his future is now, then why is he surrounded by guys who won't be around for long? And if you're doing that regardless, why isn't Keenan McCardell one of the guys?

The Bucs have lost eight of their past 11 games. It's a crisis right now. Gruden has no touchdowns, no answers. We could be looking at a runaway season, with no quarterback able to stop it, no matter who sits. Which reminds us: Bring your own chair. The panic room is filling up.