TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 25, 2006) -- Chris Simms took hit after hit, responding the way football players are taught.
He endured the pain and kept on playing.
"In the huddle, he was gasping for air," Buccaneers receiver Michael Clayton one day after the Tampa Bay quarterback's spleen was removed following a 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"He'd call part of the (pass) routes, then gasp for air and finish it. ... Everybody was saying: 'Chris, are you OK?' You could tell he was fighting it."
Simms is out indefinitely, although coach Jon Gruden has not ruled out his playing again this season.
In the meantime, rookie Bruce Gradkowski becomes the starter. Tim Rattay will be the backup, and the Bucs will explore signing a veteran to fill in as the No. 3 quarterback until Luke McCown comes off the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The Bucs initially thought the 26-year-old son of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms had difficulty breathing because of sore ribs and dehydration, but rushed him to St. Joseph's Hospital when it became apparent the injury was more serious.
"He got hurt early in the game and was able to complete the first half. He went into the locker room, was diagnosed carefully and had no symtoms whatsoever of a spleen injury," Gruden said. "He got an IV. ... He was persistent about playing and was confident he could fight through it."
It was not clear if Simms was hurt on a particular play or if the injury resulted from an accumulation of blows. Gruden felt the most damaging might have occurred late in the fourth quarter when Carolina's Al Wallace hit Simms on a pass play and landed on top of the quarterback.
Gruden thought Wallace should have been penalized for roughing the passer. Two plays later, Matt Bryant kicked a 28-yard field goal that gave Tampa Bay a 24-23 lead with five minutes remaining.
Simms attempted one more pass after that, overthrowing Joey Galloway on a deep route Gruden called on third-and-5 from the Tampa Bay 25. A first down would have given the Bucs an opportunity to burn more time off the clock.
Instead, the Panthers drove 48 yards in the final 1:41 to set up John Kasay's winning field goal with 2 seconds left.
Despite dropping to 0-3, Gruden was encouraged by the way the team battled back after trailing 17-0.
Simms was a big part of that, overcoming his seventh interception in three games to give Tampa Bay the lead twice in the second half.
"He's a tough guy. There's been people out there that have questioned his toughness," Gruden said. "Those people hopefully were silenced yesterday."
Gruden said he didn't learn Simms was in the hospital until he was driving home from the stadium and received a call from the team trainer. He visited the quarterback early today and found him 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."
Teammates were shaken when they learned Simms had surgery.
Some heard about it from television reports, while Simeon Rice -- who rarely reads the newspaper or watches NFL highlights on TV when the Bucs lose -- didn't find out until he walked into the locker room today.
"I just really had a sick feeling," center John Wade said.
"I didn't even know what a spleen was," rookie guard Davin Joseph said. "Talk about toughing it out for the team."
Clayton said anyone who knows Simms knows that's the type of individual he is.
"No matter how hurt he is, he's going to want to play," Clayton said. "Sometimes that can work not in your best interests."
Texas coach Mack Brown related a story about Simms facing Nebraska in 2002, when the former Longhorns quarterback had an ugly looking dislocated finger on his throwing hand. Simms went to the sideline, had it popped into place and finished with 419 yards passing, still a Texas regular-season record.
"He wouldn't let us pull him out of the game. He said, 'Please call timeout so they can pop it back in.' He didn't want to miss a play," Brown recalled. "His competitiveness, his toughness, has never been a question."
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved