Reserve QB sparks win, hopes to rekindle career
TAMPA, Fla. -- Brian Griese never lost faith in himself.
He fell out of favor in Denver and didn't quite feel at home in his native Miami, but the 29-year-old quarterback is determined to make the most of an opportunity to rekindle his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The one thing you come to expect is the unexpected. You never really know what's going to happen in this league. Some weeks it's kind of like a soap opera."
Griese came off the bench to spark Sunday's 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints, completing 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown after Simms left his first pro start with a sprained throwing shoulder.
Coach Jon Gruden said Monday that Simms is day-to-day but that Griese will start against the Rams. If Simms is not healthy enough to be the backup, Brad Johnson -- the starter through the first four games -- will be No. 2.
"I can't really say in my years of coaching that I've seen a guy come in off the bench and play that well in a situation where we really needed him to do that," Gruden said.
"This guy can play. He's thrown  touchdown passes in the league. He led the AFC in passing efficiency. He succeeded John Elway. Handpicked by Mike Shanahan, who I respect tremendously. He's had some bumps in the road, much like a lot of us have had. But what he did yesterday was for real. It was a heck of a show."
Simms led a 13-play, 70-yard drive that produced a field goal on Tampa Bay's opening series, but was hurt in the final minute of the first quarter when he was sacked by Saints rookie Will Smith.
Griese started 51 games in Denver from 1999 to 2002 and was the regular for five games in Miami after being released by the Broncos last year. He felt his chances of being successful in Miami were hindered because he didn't sign with the Dolphins until just before training camp and it takes time to learn a new offense and earn the confidence of teammates.
He joined the Bucs in March, and the value of having the entire offseason to settle into Gruden's system showed against New Orleans, even though Griese has spent most of his time in Tampa Bay behind Johnson and Simms on the depth chart.
"That's what I expect out of myself when I go out there. I never looked at myself as the third-string quarterback. I always knew I could go out and play. I've done it before, and I want to get back to a situation where I play at a high level," Griese said.
Gruden would not say whether Griese had earned the starting job or Simms, 24, would move back into the lineup when he's healthy.
Meanwhile, Johnson's agent, Phil Williams, said the 36-year-old who led the Bucs to the Super Bowl two seasons ago has not requested a trade, nor have they had conversations about the prospect.
"We've made no decision to discuss anything with anybody about Brad's options," Williams said by telephone.
Gruden shrugged off a question about Johnson's status, saying the Bucs will not trade the 13th-year pro.
"I'm not going to answer all the rumor mill," Gruden said. "There's a lot of inaccuracies out there. Brad Johnson is a big part of this football team and will continue to be that."
While Griese is happy to have an opportunity to start this week, he said he also knows what Johnson and Simms are going through.
He noted that he was benched after losing the first four starts of his career with Denver in 1999, and that he also understands how frustrating it can be for a quarterback to wait for an opportunity to play, then not to be able to finish because of injury.
"I know exactly where Brad is right now and how he feels. I know exactly where Chris is and how he feels. I've been in that situation, as well," Griese said.
"But I'm there for both of those guys. I think a lot of them. Right now, it's a situation where we need to go out and win some games. I think we'll all be pulling for each other."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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