Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms hasn’t fared well in his team’s first two regular season games, and it’s had a direct impact on the team’s 0-2 start to the 2006 season.

Simms has completed 45-of-82 (54.4 percent) passes for 446 yards and tossed six interceptions and zero touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 40.

Needless to say, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is worried about Simms and his offense, which has yet to reach the end zone through two regular games.

“I worry about everyone’s confidence when things don’t go good,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to do a great job of rallying around [Chris], as a staff. I know our football team will do that. He’s got to take responsibility to get better, and I know he will. But I do worry about everyone’s confidence certainly in a skid like this. At the same time, I have a lot of respect for him and his resolve. I expect him to come back raring and ready to go this week.”

Simms, a 2003 third-round pick out of Texas, became Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller in Week 6 of the 2005 season after Brian Griese went down with a season-ending knee injury. After a rough start in his first two starts against San Francisco and Carolina, Simms turned the corner and helped the Bucs win the NFC South division title and make the playoffs by completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,035 yards and tossing 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Bucs felt Simms had shown enough to become the team’s full-time starting quarterback. So much so that they released Griese in a salary cap maneuver in the offseason and signed Simms, a restricted free agent, to a one-year, $2.1 million contract.

Gruden is hoping Simms will once again find a way to rebound from a woeful start.

“Well, you know, you have to take responsibility for that,” Gruden said when asked if the Bucs had misjudged where Simms was as a quarterback earlier in the offseason. “So, obviously the results that we want right now are not at the standards that we want. But, I am going to say this: I’m not going to throw in the towel. We’re going to get back to work today, Carolina comes in here 0-2, and they’re not feeling real good about themselves either. We are very young into the season. I know Chris’ first two starts last year didn’t go by design, to say the least, and I am hoping that his play picks up significantly. There were some opportunities to make big plays in the game yesterday and we’ve got to make them. And until we do, we are going to struggle against good football teams.”

Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback isn’t the only concern on offense. The backup position is also a problem. The Bucs placed Luke McCown on the physically unable to perform list and released Jay Fiedler just before the start of the regular season. That left the Bucs with Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski as the backups behind Simms, and that duo has given the Bucs few options in terms of making a change at the quarterback position.

“I don’t want to get into all that. That’s speculation,” Gruden said when asked if he would make a change at quarterback if the Bucs had a veteran signal caller to turn to. “We made a change a couple of years ago – we were decimated, to be honest with you, [in] our receiving corps. There weren’t a lot of real happy moments. [Running back] Charlie Garner was out for the year. I think Michael Pittman was on suspension. We were going to give Chris his first look. No disrespect to Brad Johnson – he was a fine player and still is. But right now, this situation is what it is. We don’t have a lot of experience. I don’t see any experience showing up here on the horizon, so some of these negative experiences you’ve just got to swallow and you’ve got to move on. Hopefully, he can improve.”

After Tampa Bay’s Week 1 loss to Baltimore, Gruden was critical of Simms and the team’s offensive line. But Gruden was actually quite impressed with his offensive line’s effort and said Simms flat out missed some opportunities in the passing game Sunday.

“It was very good, it was outstanding, it was tremendous” Gruden said of the pass protection. “It’s one of the disappointing things as I stand here today and say, we should have completed a lot more balls. We should have completed a lot more balls, the protection was outstanding. I mean, it was outstanding. We picked up a number of different blitzes. I thought it was excellent. I thought it was firm, he was able to slide, see throws. [It was] probably as good as it’s been in a long time, at least since I have been here.

“I can only say that Chris is still a very young player. It is mystifying to me at times, that as good of a passer as he is, maybe he doesn’t hit a couple throws we all expect him to make. But I’m going to say that I see him working his butt off. This means a tremendous amount to him. We’re just going to continue to work with him and hopefully he puts it all together. But clearly, I think the tipped passes, the interceptions are what’s killing us. The turnovers are killing us. We’ve got to get away from that quick. If we don’t, we have a problem.”

This time last year, Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams had helped the Bucs get off to a 2-0 start by rushing 51 times for 276 yards and two touchdowns through the first two regular season games of the 2005 season.

But things have changed since last season. The Bucs are off to a horrific 0-2 start, and it’s no coincidence that Williams, who earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors in ’05, has been grounded in Tampa Bay’s first two games this season.

Williams has rushed 23 times for 59 yards (2.6 avg.) through two games this season. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden planned on having a run-oriented offense led by Williams this year, but the fact that the team has fallen behind early in games has forced the Bucs to abandon the running game too early and too often.

 “Not when we’re behind,” Gruden said when asked if the Bucs felt they needed to give Williams the ball more. “It’s 14-3 with eight minutes left. We’re obviously not going to run the ball and let the clock put us out of the game. We’re going to have to throw the football when we’re behind by 11 points with eight or nine minutes left in the game. And we’re going to throw the ball in the two-minute drill prior to the end of the first half. And we did a good job. We have some good looks in the passing game; there are plays to be made. We ran the ball on early downs a lot in the game. We tried to get the running game going. But 15 carries for 37 yards doesn’t exactly simulate what Atlanta did to us yesterday. We have got to get more out of our running game. We had a nice run called back because of a penalty. So, there was a lot to it yesterday. I will be the first to say I would like to give it to him every play. But sometimes circumstances don’t allow that.”

Williams has been bothered by back spasms and even missed part of the regular season opener vs. Baltimore due to the injury, but the Bucs feel he’s on the mend. Now it’s  a matter of the Bucs keeping themselves in football games long enough to get Williams more involved on offense.

“He came out of the Baltimore game at halftime,” said Gruden. “Basically started the third quarter, didn’t play a lot in the second half against Baltimore. And the scoreboard has taken him out of the game a little bit, in terms of carries. But his yards per carry, the looks that we’re giving him aren’t the same. And there are some defenses I think that are content on making us do something we don’t want to do on first and second down. Until we prove we can do it, it’s going to be a little hard to run the football. So, it’s a combination of those things. And when you get behind, as we’ve been behind in the fourth quarter the last two weeks, not a lot of teams are going to be persistent running the football unless they are trying to go home quick.”

While many people have been critical of Tampa Bay’s defense for allowing Atlanta to rush for a whopping 306 yards during Sunday’s game, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was quick to credit Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and running back Warrick Dunn, and the Falcons’ offensive game plan.
“First of all, you step back and you tip your hat to Atlanta,” Gruden said when asked about the defense’s inability to stop Atlanta’s rushing attack.. “They have a little bit different running game right now than they have had. I think the NFL is finding out that Michael Vick is at times, a running back. From a shotgun, to a one-back option series, these are designed runs. I mean this guy is a full-fledged running back at times, and might be one of the best running backs in the league. Surely, he is one of the fastest. But they caught us off guard a couple times with their scheme, showing some new things. We’ve got to take responsibility for that as coaches. And certainly there were some times that we got out of our gaps maybe a little bit too aggressive. And we got out flanked. It was a combination of those two things, but we expect much, much better certainly. And I tip my hat to Atlanta, they did a heck of a job. They’re a very, very good football team.”

Bucs kicker Matt Bryant, who connected on 84 percent of his field goal tries last year, missed two field goals during Sunday’s 14-3 loss to the Falcons. Needless to say, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wasn’t pleased by Bryant’s performance.

“I am not going to blame the long snapper; he snapped the ball back there pretty good,” Gruden said of Doug Jolley, who replaced Dave Moore on Sunday. “We missed two kicks; we’ve got to make them. They missed four kicks and we missed two kicks, it wasn’t a real good kicking display yesterday and I will leave it at that.”

Not only was he critical of his team on Monday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was critical of the officiating in Sunday’s game, particularly an illegal block in the back call on linebacker Ryan Nece that negated LB Derrick Brooks’ 63-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. He expressed his frustration with that call during Monday’s press conference at One Buc Place.

“I was very disappointed in that call,” Gruden said. “I was disappointed with several calls; but I’m not one of those guys to just give away money. That was a bad call I think in my opinion, but you have to move on, you have to play on, you have to play your game. You have to get ready for the official calls. They are not performing an easy job either, but I didn’t see any foul whatsoever.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on how much it wears on him to start 0-2 after working so hard in the offseason:

“This wears on me. It’s part of the job, you know. You take responsibility, you take it very seriously. It’s all you do. It’s a great challenge right now. I don’t like to say we’ve started 0-2 very often, at any level anywhere. But this is a tough league. It’s a nasty league right now, and we don’t deserve to have won either one of these games. We have not done well enough to win. Until we play much better in all three phases of our football, we’re going to continue to struggle. I’m counting on our players and our coaches to find a way, okay? With the support of our fans, find a way to get out of this first quarter [of the season] with some momentum, and it’s not going to get any easier when you look at our schedule.”

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