Tampa Bay starting quarterback Brian Griese had a clear head on Monday morning, which was less than 24 hours after he sustained a concussion during Sunday’s 17-13 win over the Detroit Lions.
Griese, who was injured while attempting to avoid a tackle on a scramble early in the second quarter, was left “woozy” after the play and went on to throw three interceptions, which led to a total of 10 points for the Lions.
Despite Griese’s inconsistent play, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Monday that he stood by his decision to keep Griese in the game and backup QB Chris Simms on the bench.
“I don’t regret keeping him the game, because we, obviously, made sure that he was okay to go,” Gruden said of Griese.
While he completed 22-of-39 (56.4 percent) passes for 302 yards and tossed three interceptions, Griese, who managed to toss a 41-yard touchdown pass to running back Michael Pittman late in the second quarter and an 80-yard TD strike to wide receiver Joey Galloway at the start of the third quarter, suggested the concussion wasn’t enough to keep him out of the game.
“If I were ever in a position where I didn’t feel like I could play effectively I wouldn’t go out there because Chris is more than capable of coming in and working the offense,” said Griese. “I don’t have any doubt that Chris can help this team win. But I felt like I could go back out and finish the game. I made some bad decisions and I am going to work on those things. But if I had the chance to go back out there and compete I’m not going to lay down for anybody.”
Griese plans to correct the mistakes he’s made, but he better do it in a hurry. The 30-year-old quarterback has tossed six interceptions this season, which is the third-highest interception total of any starting signal caller in the NFL behind Daunte Culpepper (10) and Brett Favre (7).
“Turnovers are not a part of this program,” said Gruden. “And, I don’t want to be ultra-critical today, because Brian did do some very good things. Interceptions and turnovers will lose us games. We’re going to make our case again, today, to eliminate that in a hurry.”
The Bucs believe one of the reasons why Griese, who has been picked off 12 times in his past seven starts, is throwing interceptions is because he’s trying to make something out of nothing. That’s something Gruden planned to address with Griese on Monday.
“He’s made three of his interceptions this season when he was scrambling, one against Minnesota, one against Green Bay and one yesterday prior to the end of the half,” said Gruden. “He is trying to get too much out of plays. We’ll make one more pitch today, because sometimes the best play you make is throwing the ball away because it’s the only play. He has made some big plays on the boot swing but also there’s a fine line in the conversation. And, this is a guy who is going to state his case and it’s going to be a heck of a day for me, shortly.
“It’s not a comical deal. It’s intolerable to turn the ball over. We are over-working certain aspects of plays. We’re trying to get too much out of something that isn’t there. If we can eliminate four or five of the negative plays he’s had this year, he’s played extremely well.”
Even with Griese’s costly turnovers, the Bucs are off to a 4-0 start. But despite his team’s early success, Griese said he and the Bucs have plenty of room for improvement.
“This game is about making plays,” said Griese, who has tossed six touchdown passes this season. “My job, when you boil everything down, is to decipher the difference between when you can make plays and when it’s better to try and not make plays. In certain instances yesterday I probably should have not tried to make plays, but at the same token the throw to Joey Galloway for a touchdown wasn’t a safe thrown, either. That’s the game we play. I’m going to continue to work on my game just like everybody else on our team. We’re 4-0, and we realize that we have a lot of work to do.”
The Bucs might have escaped with a win vs. the Lions, but they left that contest fairly banged up, too.
The injury most inquiring minds want to know about is the one suffered by rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who was held to 13 yards on 11 carries on Sunday but has rushed for 447 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns through four games this season.
Williams, who has been playing through a foot ailment, injured his hamstring during the first half of the game vs. Detroit. But according to Gruden, the severity of that injury won’t be determined until Wednesday.
“Carnell Williams has, obviously, a foot strain and a mild hamstring [injury] that we’re a little bit concerned about,” said Gruden. “I will only be able to update the official injury report here in the next 24 hours.”
Williams’ strained foot was placed in a walking boot again on Monday. He’s been limited in practice for two straight weeks and could be sidelined again this week as Tampa Bay prepares to take on the New York Jets.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Gruden said when asked if Williams would be limited in practice this week. “I have been frustrated, as has he, with the last couple weeks. The foot injury has been persistent. It is getting better, but how much better I really don’t know. We’re going to put him in a boot today, take the boot off tomorrow and see how he feels. In the time being, Earnest Graham, [Michael] Pittman, those guys will go.”
Pittman stepped up big in Williams’ place on Sunday, rushing five times for 30 yards (6.0 avg.) and catching six passes for 96 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown on a rail route play he convinced Gruden to call late in the second quarter.
“Well, it was important,” Gruden said of Pittman’s performance. “I don’t think he’s been lacking confidence; he’s been lacking playing time. He hasn’t had an opportunity to really go out and play and be a factor as a focal point of carrying the ball and carrying the load. But as a pass receiver and as a runner yesterday he did some great things. He had some nice pick-ups in pass protection and it was big for us. He delivered big for us.”
Tampa Bay was encouraged to find offensive success vs. Detroit without Williams, who had been their most dangerous weapon through the first three games of the season. Finding ways to win without Cadillac is something the Bucs know they have to be able to do at times this season.
“We can’t rely on him every week,” Griese said of Williams. “If a team decides to stack the line of scrimmage we have to be able to throw the football. I think we’ve proven over the last year and a half that we can do that. Now, we don’t want to throw the ball as much as we did last year, but we’re still trying to find that balance. The sooner we find it the better football team we’ll be. It’s nice to say that when you’re 4-0.”
Not only do they not yet know the extent of the hamstring injury, the Bucs are not sure whether Williams’ foot injury played a role in the hamstring injury he sustained on Sunday.
“We don’t really the severity of this hamstring,” said Gruden. “It might just be a contusion of some kind. But Carnell’s not the most outspoken guy that I’ve met. We’re meeting with him at this time and I can’t speculate publicly anymore until Carnell and the doctors have had a chance to look at this further.
“Whether it’s a hamstring or any injury you’ve got to be careful with it. We’re going to do what we deem is best for him and for this season. Cadillac is really good with pain. All I can say is that the doctors will let us know, Carnell will let us know.”
In other injury news, Bucs safety Dexter Jackson is expected to return to action this week after being sideline all of last week with a hamstring injury. However, second-year S Will Allen has been impressive and could still see playing time even after Jackson returns.
“Yeah, I think both of those guys are going to play,” Gruden said of Allen and Jackson. “We’ll make a determination on that once we see Dexter on the practice field here, hopefully Wednesday and Thursday.
“Will certainly has been a part of our turnovers on defense the last two weeks. I think good football players are usually around the ball, and have an instinct for the ball. That was part of his upbringing. His athleticism and his intelligence he plays with are going to allow him to get more turnovers.”
Starting left tackle Anthony Davis has a bruised left shoulder, which kept him out of the second half of Sunday’s game vs. Detroit. The severity of the injury will be determined on Wednesday. In the meantime, the Bucs appear to be comfortable with Todd Steussie, who played well in place of Davis on Sunday.
“Todd Steussie played good,” said Gruden. “He’s been a lightning rod here. He came in and played really well in second half.”
Gruden disclosed Monday that WR Michael Clayton, who has caught 17 passes for 196 yards and no touchdowns through four games, has been playing through a shoulder injury. However, Clayton is not expected to miss any playing time due to that ailment.
“He has a shoulder problem and he’s fighting through it,” Gruden said of Clayton. “It’s been a tough year he’s been in some real collisions in the first month of the season. We haven’t been getting him the ball as much as we would like to.”
BUCS OFF TO 4-0 START
For the first time since 1997, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 4-0.
How quickly things change. This time last year, the Bucs started the regular season 0-4 and finished 2004 with a 5-11 record. According to Gruden, anything can happen in the NFL.
“I tell you this is a crazy league,” said Gruden. “There’s an analyst on every corner who can figure it out. You just put the lights out in the room and start watching tape. And every week you see a team with great talent, interesting schemes, a twist and turn of the game is going to change the flow of the current. If you can control turnovers and have success on third down, you have a chance to win in pro football.”
Although the Bucs are only one of four teams still undefeated, Gruden said his team, which has won its last two games by a total of five points, has several areas to improve in.
“Our whole team has a real respect for what needs to be done,” said Gruden. “If we don’t improve our play we’ll be hard-pressed to win another game. That’s how this league is right now. We have got to improve our play in all three phases. I don’t think anybody is satisfied other than we have won four games in a row this season.”
One area the Bucs need to clean up is the penalty department. They’ve been penalized 41 times for 356 yards in four games.
“We have a couple guys that made some; I don’t want to use the word, selfish plays,” said Gruden. “We have used poor judgment, that’s a better word. Let’s make sure I change that, scratch selfish from the record. Use very poor judgment, in terms of technique that we want done. That hurt us; we have got to use better judgment.”
Overall, Gruden has been pleased with how the Bucs have prepared for their games week in and week out.
“I like the way we practice, I like the way we prepare for games, I like the energy on the football team more than anything,” said Gruden. “We have a lot of good energy. I think there are some young players gaining confidence, although some are getting leg weary. And that doesn’t just apply to the young guys. We’ve pushed them hard and they’ve responded and it now becomes a test of wills, the longer the season goes, the worse you feel.
“We have a long way to go. I am happy to be 4-0, and I also have a lot of respect for what needs to be done here. We’re going to count on some guys to get better, and not level off. We have many areas to get better in, many.”
NOWHERE TO RUN
Tampa Bay’s defense ranks tied No. 1 overall in the NFL, and part of the reason for the Bucs’ ability to accomplish that tremendous feat is the team’s play against the run.
Last year, the Bucs finished the season ranked 19th vs. the run. But things have drastically changed this year. In fact, the Bucs currently rank tied for No. 1 in that category as well, and Gruden credits several players and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin for the Bucs’ success vs. the run thus far.
“We changed some things defensively, too, scheme wise,” said Gruden. “We’ve loaded some punts, we’ve had some big-play people help us, like Anthony McFarland, Chris Hovan, Ellis Wyms help us. Without a doubt Juran Bolden has come in there and help us, not just as a cornerback but as a guy we have confidence in making plays and we can free up Ronde Barber and really do some things with the personnel and make some scheme changes. That’s the fact that we emphasized this so much in the offseason program, running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense. We had some real physical days in training camp to try to make that an area, on both sides, that can make good improvement.”
Another player Gruden credits with Tampa Bay’s improved play vs. the run is middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who leads the team in tackles and notched 10 takedowns vs. Detroit on Sunday despite playing with an injured hand.
“He was able to suck it up and continue going,” said Gruden. “This is a great football player, he’s physical, he’s fast, he’s instinctive, he calls the defense and he’s having fun playing. He’s certainly having, what I expect to be a Pro Bowl year.”
Another player who left the field during the game on Sunday was WR Joey Galloway, who had to be carted to the locker room due to cramping and required an IV.
Despite missing a few minutes of Sunday’s game, Galloway turned in a big performance, catching a team-high seven passes for a career-high 166 yards and a touchdown on an 80-yard strike from Griese in the third quarter.
“I felt like everybody was leaving me, yesterday,” Gruden said kiddingly. “I got so mad at the trainer, Todd (Toriscelli). “First ‘Cadillac’ is out then Anthony Davis, Clayton’s gone, Galloway’s gone, what do you want me to do? Joey and I had a good conversation after the game. We’ll do whatever we have got to do to keep him healthy. We missed him three or four times yesterday for big chunks, he could have had a real big day. He played tremendous football for us and certainly will be in the lineup as much as possible.”
Galloway has caught 17 passes for 316 yards (18.6 avg.) and three touchdowns this season.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Gruden on the hustle of T Kenyatta Walker, who made his second game-saving tackle on an interception in as many weeks
“Yeah, we might move him to safety. He’s really made two unbelievable effort plays to help us win two games in the last two weeks. That was a heck of an effort for a big guy at the end of a long half, to run across the field and make that kind of play. And really, it was a game-saving play.”
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