TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 25, 2006) -- Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms is out indefinitely after having his spleen removed. However, the Buccaneers have not ruled out his playing again this season.
"We're going to do what our doctors deem is the right thing to do," coach Jon Gruden said, adding he visited Simms in the hospital and found him in good spirits.
"He's going to be just fine. ... His football career is in no jeopardy," Gruden added. "There is a chance he can come back and play this year."
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.
Simms had his spleen removed after absorbing several punishing hits during a 26-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Gruden said the 26-year-old was examined repeatedly during the game and showed no symptoms of being injured as seriously as he was.
"We checked between every series. He was in some pain. He did get hit early in the game, as a lot of players do, and return to play," the coach said.
Team physician Dr. Joe Diaco issued a statement saying he anticipates a full recovery.
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 may 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.
Simms left briefly late in the third quarter, but returned to lead a fourth-quarter field goal drive that gave Tampa Bay a 24-23 lead with five minutes remaining. He finished the game, accompanying teammates to the locker room on his own power.
The Bucs did not immediately announce that Simms was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, a few blocks from Raymond James Stadium. Team officials simply said he would not be available for postgame interviews because he was with doctors and trainers.
Gruden, meanwhile, said during his postgame press conference that Simms hurt his ribs early in the game and was also battling dehydration.
"He is hurting right now, there is no question," Gruden said. "He left the game. I don't know that it was because of his ribs, dehydration or both."
Simms was replaced by Gradkowski for the last play of the third quarter and first play of the fourth.
Although the Bucs said Simms went to the locker room because he was cramping, the quarterback didn't appear to be the same after being hit at the goal line on a 2-yard TD run that gave Tampa Bay a 21-20 lead with just under six minutes left in the third period.
The recuperation time for a normal person is four to six weeks, though it's unclear how long it might take to heal enough to play football.
The spleen is an organ located in the upper left side of the abdomen, storing blood and breaking down old blood cells to help the body fight infections. Many people live productive, healthy lives without it.
The loss of Simms is certainly a blow to a Tampa Bay team looking to recover from an 0-3 start.
He completed 13 of 24 passes for 139 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Panthers sacked him once and linebacker Adam Seward hit him hard when Simms faked a handoff to Mike Alstott and ran around left end on fourth-and-1 to score his TD.
The Bucs have a bye next weekend, giving Gruden extra time to get Gradkowski ready for his first pro start at New Orleans.