The Bucs get their first victory behind a strong-armed, Super Bowl winning QB's kid, but not the one expected.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published October 11, 2004

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NEW ORLEANS - It was the kind of introduction every quarterback dreams of.

The Bucs had a new voice in the huddle Sunday that dripped with confidence, a new arm that zipped crisper passes and a new leader for the first victory of the season.

He was that breath of fresh air for a stale season, the son of a famous NFL quarterback who missed only three receivers all day.

After throwing the winning touchdown to defeat the Saints 20-17, he is almost certain to be the starter Oct.18 at St. Louis.

It is his time, his moment, except for this:

He is Brian Griese, not Chris Simms.

Simms' first NFL start ended after 19 plays when he was sacked by end Will Smith near the end of the first quarter and strained his left (throwing) shoulder. X-rays did not show any structural damage. He was scheduled for an MRI exam this morning but is day to day.

Griese entered with the Bucs trailing 7-3 and completed 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown to tight end Ken Dilger on the first series of the second half.

He also completed two third-down passes during the fourth quarter, one during the final drive to help ice the game, and finished with a passer rating of 126.8.

"It's an unfortunate situation for Chris, and I really feel for him," Griese said. "He's so excited. He was so ready to play. And then for this to happen to him, it hurts him. It hurts the team. A lot of guys feel for him, and hopefully, he can come back as soon as possible.

"He's a great kid, and he's going to be a great player for a long time. But for me, personally, it's a great situation to get an opportunity to come out and prove I can lead the offense. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm going to continue to get ready like I have been."

Simms said his left arm was in an awkward position when Smith landed on him but doesn't believe the injury will force him to miss more than a week. He said it was similar to an earlier injury.

"I feel like I'm going to be fine," said Simms, the son of former Giants Super Bowl quarterback Phil Simms. "I didn't feel anything weird. It felt just like it did my senior year with my right arm down in Texas. I told them right away. I think it just stretched out.

"I've just got a little bit of a heavy heart just because I wanted to be out there with the guys. I wanted to be out there and have that feeling of winning the game. But that's football. I can remember my dad going through things like these."

Simms, 24, looked sharp in replacing Brad Johnson. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 68 yards and led the Bucs on a 70-yard drive on the first possession. He just missed throwing his first touchdown when a pass in the end zone to rookie Michael Clayton was ruled incomplete because he lost control of the ball. Martin Gramatica followed with a 23-yard field goal.

"I felt great," Simms said. "That's what's depressing about the whole thing. I felt like I was playing well. I felt like I saw the field real well, and I was excited to be out there."

But Smith beat right tackle Todd Steussie on Simms' blind side, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brian Young. Steussie was replaced on the next series by Kenyatta Walker and did not return.

Enter Griese, the 29-year-old signed during the offseason and the Bucs' No.2 quarterback when Johnson was made inactive. Unlike Simms, he doesn't lack experience, having started 56 games in five seasons for the Broncos and Dolphins. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000 after leading the league in passer rating.

But the son of Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese couldn't help but feel passed over when coach Jon Gruden announced last week he was replacing Johnson with Simms.

"It's tough because I feel like I can still play and I want to be out there and prove that I can play," Griese said. "But at the same time, I understand situations, and I've been in this league long enough to know guys deserve shots. And Chris deserves his shot, and unfortunately, he got hurt."

Gruden lost his voice during the game and had to cut his postgame news conference short. But Griese's performance spoke volumes.

"Brian did a good job. That's the story," Gruden whispered. "I thought he did a great job under tough circumstances. He made some plays in key situations."

He wasn't alone. The team's first touchdown came courtesy of the defense. Trailing 7-6, end Greg Spires stripped running back Deuce McAllister, and cornerback Ronde Barber scooped up the loose ball and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. It was Barber's second fumble return for a score this season and the eighth touchdown of his career.

Griese's touchdown pass to Dilger made it 20-7 3:04 into the third quarter, but the Saints marched back.

McAllister, who had not played since Sept.19 because of sprained right ankle, rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries. He carried five times for 40 yards on a third-quarter drive capped by Aaron Brooks' 3-yard touchdown pass to Joe Horn.

The Bucs had forced the Saints to settle for a 24-yard field goal after having it first and goal from the 2. The goal-line stand was negated when Dewayne White was penalized for climbing on the back of a Saint in an attempt to block the kick.

But the Bucs made their lead stand up. Brian Kelly intercepted Brooks at the Bucs 17 to stop the Saints' first drive of the fourth quarter. A 47-yard field goal by John Carney cut the lead to 20-17 with 3:43 remaining. But Griese and the offense were able to run out the clock.

Griese completed a third-and-5 pass to running back Michael Pittman to midfield with 3:18 left. On third and 5 from the Saints 31 on the first play after the two-minute warning, Pittman broke several tackles for a 10-yard run.

"He made an unbelievable play," Griese said. "Mike had an unbelievable game. I think last week he proved that he was kind of ticked off that he hadn't been in helping us win some games."

So who will start Oct.18 against the Rams?

"I don't know," Griese said. "I've been around long enough to know not to get involved in the decisionmaking and try to influence things.

"More importantly, I hope it's going to be a stepping block for us. We have a long way to go. There's a lot of football left to be played. There's a lot of pride in that locker room, and hopefully, we can use this and turn this thing around."

[Last modified October 11, 2004, 04:29:12]