NFC West News & Notes - 11/1/05

News, quotes and personnel notes from around the division.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Two weeks after suffering a fractured skull, a blood clot near his brain, a brain bruise and a broken hand in an altercation outside a Seattle nightclub, Seattle safety Ken Hamlin appears to be taking the first steps toward recovery. However, his season is officially over.

According to an Associated Press story released on the evening of October 31, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said that Hamlin is “doing better” and recovering at home. Hamlin was released from Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center a week ago.

"The encouraging thing to me is the word that I got today ... The headaches are not as intense," Holmgren said. "They've backed off on some of his medications. That's all encouraging." There has been no confirmation as to the severity or permanence of any lasting effects from the head injuries.

Per Seattle radio station KJR (and confirmed by Mike Sando of the Tacoma News Tribune), Hamlin was placed on the non-football injury list on November 1. The move ends Hamlin's season and opens a spot on the 53-man roster.

Seattle continues its season at Arizona this Sunday after a bye

Running back Shaun Alexander remains without a contract beyond this season. There have been few tangible signs of progress toward a long-term agreement, although one recent report suggested the sides had exchanged offers for the first time. Alexander remains in the spotlight heading into Seattle's game against Arizona. He has 294 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in his last two games against the Cardinals. There were rumors before the season that Arizona might have had some interest in acquiring Alexander via trade, although such talk was never substantiated.

The Seahawks have taken a wait-and-see approach to re-signing the franchise's career rushing leader. "For the long-term, I wanted to get through a good portion of the season to see what my feelings were about Shaun and how he interacts and works with this team as we go into the future," Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said. "It's a very big decision. The running back market is a very tough market. That's why all these guys are seemingly in limbo."

Alexander could have company if he makes it to free agency. Jamal Lewis, Brian Westbrook, Edgerrin James and Ahman Green are also scheduled for free agency. Alexander has been more productive than the others. And unlike Green, he has shown no signs of succumbing to the injuries that tend to take an increasing toll as running backs approach age 30. Alexander turns 29 before the 2006 season.

"We're talking with his representatives, and if we could work out something long term at this point of the season, that would be great," Ruskell said. "If we can't, we won't give up on it. It's certainly not going to be easy. There's not a quick solution, and there are a lot of different factors involved."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Before the Seahawks could begin preparing to play the Cardinals in Arizona, their coach had to return from a little desert getaway. Holmgren, who owns a vacation home in Arizona, spent the bye week relaxing there. "It was nice," Holmgren said after practice Monday. "It was really, really a great week. The players had a good week. They moved very well today. We got some guys healthy and now we have to maintain what we had going before."

Holmgren, 57, didn't sleep in much during his vacation, however.

"I can't sleep in any more," he said. "I think that's a sign of old age, I'm sorry to say."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Andre Dyson is practicing this week and should be able to play Sunday. He has missed time with a hamstring injury.

--WR Bobby Engram will try to practice Wednesday before the team decides whether he can return from cracked ribs this week.

--WR Darrell Jackson is probably a couple weeks away from attempting to return from knee surgery, coach Mike Holmgren said.

--LT Wayne Hunter remains sidelined by a hamstring injury. He will not play Sunday.

--RT Sean Locklear will remain in the starting lineup even though RT Floyd Womack is back from injury. The team thinks Womack is valuable as the backup to both guard and tackle spots. Locklear is playing well enough to stay on the field.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER SEVEN GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- QB Matt Hasselbeck was awful in the season opener, but he responded by setting a franchise record for most consecutive passes without an interception. Hasselbeck still became too emotional at times, but not to the degree of past seasons. He was able to remain effective even after losing starting WRs Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram. Dropped passes were down considerably from past seasons.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Seattle ran the ball effectively in six of its first seven games. Only the Cowboys prevented RB Shaun Alexander from doing damage on the ground. Alexander ranked among the top two rushers in the league for most of the first seven weeks. He ran harder than in past seasons, breaking more tackles. FB Mack Strong remained effective at age 34. Backup TE Ryan Hannam and WR Joe Jurevicius also made key contributions in run blocking.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- Seattle gave up too many long passes, including completions of more than 40 yards against the Jaguars and Cardinals. The Rams burned Seattle for pass plays of 25, 26, 27 and 28 yards, two of them for touchdowns. The pass defense was generally effective late in games, however, as Seattle avoided the last-minute collapses that defined its 2004 season. The Seahawks also went into their bye week with more sacks than all but two teams, a big surprise given concerns about the pass rush.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Seattle did not allow an individual 100-yard rusher in the first seven games. The Seahawks held opponents' starting running backs to a long gain of 16 yards. Those factors represented dramatic upgrades over recent Seattle defenses. The Seahawks ranked near the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed, however, because of breakdowns against unconventional tactics. There was a 25-yard run by Jaguars WR Matt   Jones; a 32-yarder by Falcons QB Michael Vick; a 13-yarder by Cardinals QB Kurt Warner; and a crushing 18-yarder in overtime by Redskins QB Mark Brunell.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Seahawks are on their third special-teams coach in three seasons. They might have reason to look for a fourth if Bob Casullo fails to fix obvious problems. Casullo was behind the team's disastrous decision to keep ineffective veteran P Leo Araguz over promising young P Chris Kluwe. Araguz struggled so badly that Seattle mercifully replaced him with P Tom Rouen after four games. Kluwe, meanwhile, was enjoying a fine season for Minnesota. Seattle's return games have also been abysmal, reflected by a 5.2-yard average gain on punt returns. The kick-return game has been plagued by penalties and the occasional fumble.

COACHING: B - Coach Mike Holmgren still needs to tighten up his pass protection, but it's tough to argue with a No. 1 overall offensive ranking for much of the first seven weeks. Holmgren deserves credit for wisely sticking with the run game even though everyone knows how much he loves to throw the ball. The defensive staff has done a nice job despite losing coordinator Ray Rhodes to a mild stroke before the season opener. The blitzing has become more effective, helping Seattle pump up its sack totals despite questionable pass-rushing talent. The special-teams coaching has left a lot to be desired.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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With a pathetic running game, too much pressure is being placed upon quarterback Josh McCown to make plays. And the situation doesn't figure to improve any time soon. The problems begin up front. Right tackle Fred Wakefield, who started the past four games in place of the injured Oliver Ross, has not played well. He's struggled in both pass and run blocking.

Wakefield moved to tackle from defensive end just last spring, so his struggles aren't a surprise. The problem is that he shouldn't be the team's backup tackle. Coach Dennis Green made huge mistakes when he cut Anthony Clement and L.J. Shelton in the off-season.

Neither player is a Pro Bowler, but they certainly are better than Wakefield.

The offense did receive a bit of good news Monday, however. Initial indications are that the knee injury receiver Anquan Boldin suffered against Dallas last Sunday isn't as severe as the one he suffered a year ago. Boldin missed six games last year after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. He suffered an injury Sunday to his right knee in the third quarter, but he later revealed the knee had been bothering him all last week.

Coaches and the front office remain hopeful that Boldin will be able to play this Sunday against Seattle.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Josh McCown didn't draw raves from coach Dennis Green for his play in Dallas, but he's not expected to be benched.
"I don't think anyone on offense played real well," Green said. "Any time you're under 300 yards, any time you're under 15 first downs, offensively, you're not playing very well."

--The Cardinals are 2-5 for the second straight year under Green. Last year, they won two straight to go to 4-5, but it's hard to see that happening with a game against Seattle next week. The Dallas game could take the life out of this team. "This is a game we all thought we could win," said receiver Anquan Boldin. "We just didn't execute. I know it sounds cliche-ish, but we just didn't play our type of football."

--McCown took several punishing hits against Dallas. After the game, Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe told McCown that he admired his toughness. One of those hits came from Cowboys safety Keith Davis, a teammate of McCown's at Sam Houston State.

"It looked a lot worse than it felt," McCown said. "After the game, I asked him why he did it since I was already on the way down. He said it was because all those years in college when he never got to touch me."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--OT Oliver Ross is expected to return this week from a broken hand that's caused him to miss four games. The Cardinals need him desperately because his replacement, Fred Wakefield, has not played well.

--CB Eric Green, who has been out with a shoulder sprain, could return for this Sunday's game against Dallas.

--WR Anquan Boldin might be able to play this Sunday despite suffering a knee injury in the third quarter last week. Boldin's injury, however, highlights the lack of depth at the position. If he can't play, Bryant Johnson becomes the starter, and LeRon McCoy, a rookie, moves up to No. 2.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- The protection was poor and McCown was under a heavy rush all day. He did have a nice touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- It's still horrible. Backs are getting hit behind the line of scrimmage as the offensive linemen blow assignments or just flat get beat.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- QB Drew Bledsoe had too much time to throw, and was not intercepted.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Cowboys whipped the Cardinals up front and rushed for 146 yards. Marion Barber III, a rookie, gained 127 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Neil Rackers has made 22 straight now. The return games aren't helping a struggling offense.

COACHING: D -- Dennis Green's decisions on the offensive line haven't panned out. The situation is getting worse, not better.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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With potential adversity coming from all directions, the Rams made it to the season's halfway point at 4-4, and now have a bye to get healthy and prepare for the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 13. Running back Steven Jackson ran for 179 yards Sunday, and the offensive line battled with injuries against Jacksonville's offensive line.

Left guard Tom Nutten replaced Claude Terrell, who was out with a neck injury, while right guard Adam Timmerman played with a tight back after going to a chiropractor on Friday. Rookie right tackle Alex Barron overcame a brutal third quarter, in which he was called for five penalties, including three on successive plays. "I'm going to give them all the praise," Jackson said of the line. "It's not me. The holes were there."

Said Timmerman, "No big deal. The back's a little tight; I'll see how it reacts tomorrow. I'm sure it's going to be sore. But it actually was feeling better as the game went on."

The offense has had a different approach with quarterback Marc Bulger out with a shoulder injury and wide receivers Torry Holt (knee) and Isaac Bruce (toe also out. "Obviously we have to play a certain way right now," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "We are banged up. This is probably a game that Mike Martz would have loved to coach. He probably would have gone empty backfields, sets and motion, to (mess) with people. But we can't do that, because Mike's not here. There's a certain way we have to play the game in order to win."

Vitt has also pulled out some motivational tactics. Prior to the previous week's game against New Orleans, he showed the team a tape of Jim Valvano's "Never Give Up" speech. The day before Sunday's game, the players saw a clip from "Gladiator," in which the character Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, exhorts his men, saying, "Whatever comes out of these gates, do you understand if we stay together, we survive? Come together. Stay close. Lock your shields. And stay as one."

"It was crazy," free safety Mike Furrey said. "It was like, let's go. Let's go right now. Coach got up and said, I can't wait to wake up tomorrow, but we were hoping to go out and play right away. He has stepped up, he has stepped up huge and it's been good for us."

As for Jackson, Vitt said, "I think he's one of those special backs, the more you feed him the ball the stronger he gets, the more confidence he gets. In that fourth quarter he was wearing people down."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Interim head coach Joe Vitt was proclaimed healthy Monday after having procedure to check for calcium deposits in his arteries. Vitt was at the hospital at 6 a.m. was out by noon, and met with the media at 3 p.m. "All right, I'm not Dick Cheney now," Vitt said. "I informed the team after the game last night that what I say in the locker room stays in the locker room. Well obviously that didn't happen. (According to media accounts) by this afternoon I was getting a heart transplant. As you guys know, in August I was put in the hospital for three days with a staph infection in my left hand. Last spring they took a picture of my heart... they did a heart scan and they saw some calcium in my heart, so they were going to put me on cholesterol medicine. Well, the cholesterol medicine, I either had an allergic reaction to or the staph infection came in. It elevated the enzymes in my liver -- which is a thing called bilirubin. As soon as they took me off the cholesterol medicine in the hospital, the enzymes in my liver came down, my staph infection cleared up, along with the antibiotics.

"So back then, in August, it was decided we'll get to the bye, and we'll just go in there and do a catheterization and look at all the arteries and see if it's not invasive and take a good look at it. I told my linebackers back in August when I came back from the hospital from that two-day visit, 'Hey, during the bye, the first day the bye's up, I'm going to get this thing done.' It just so happened that I was put into the position of interim head coach and everybody knows about it. I had the catheterization toady. My main arteries are great. The doctor says I look great, so there I am. It is what it is."

--When LB Brandon Chillar picked up a blocked punt and ran 29 yards for a touchdown Sunday, it was the first such score for the Rams since 1987. Oddly, that punt block that was recovered in the end zone by Jerry Gray, occurred in St. Louis when the Rams were playing the Cardinals. When told how long it had been, linebacker Drew Wahlroos, who blocked the punt, said, "Really? Wow! I was seven."

Wahlroos bore in on punter Chris Hanson untouched. Rams special teams coach Bob Ligashesky was a Jacksonville special teams assistant last season. "I don't think I was touched," Wahlroos said. "I think the guard went down and the tackle went out, and I went right in there. My eyes got real big."

Said Chillar, "I heard the double thud, when he kicks it and it gets blocked. I looked for the ball and it was right there. I just scooped and scored." Wahlroos added, "Me and him are both San Diego guys. Our teams played against each other in high school and it's great to see him score. It's exciting for us to give the team a spark like that."

--The 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jamie Martin to wide receiver Kevin Curtis was the longest play in both players' careers. It was also longest Rams play since Kurt Warner connected with Torry Holt on an 85-yard touchdown against Atlanta on Sept. 24, 2000. Martin said the play was put in the game plan last week by offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. "Steve drew that play up early in the week," Martin said. "He knew off that formation, we'd get a certain defensive look. And they did it. We saw it coming and Kevin was able to beat the guy. I threw it out there and it just worked perfect."

Safety Deke Cooper was late helping on the play, as Curtis got past cornerback Rashean Mathis. Neither could catch him. Curtis then jumped into the stands and gave the ball to a fan.

"I don't know what I was doing," Curtis said. "I kind of wish I would have kept that ball."

--ESPN analyst Steve Young on the ongoing dispute between the team and coach Mike Martz: "It looks cheap. Stay accountable for the fact you made him your head coach. Whether you like it or not, he's your guy. If you're going to fire him at the end of the year, fire him. If you're going to fire him now, fire him. But, as long as he's the coach and he wants to communicate and help the team out, how could you cut him off?"

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Corey Ivy had an impressive game against the Jaguars, and was a big reason why the Rams held WR Jimmy Smith to two receptions.

--CB Ron Bartell had his second solid game in a row, seeing a lot of time as the nickel back.

--NT Ryan Pickett continues to tie up blockers and be as consistent as any tackle in the league.

--FS Mike Furrey has three takeaways in the last two games, and is developing into a big-play maker while he learns to take better angles in the running game.

--WR Isaac Bruce might not be ready when the Rams come back from their bye Nov. 13 against Seattle. Bruce has been out since injuring his toe against Tennessee on Sept. 25.

REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- QB Jamie Martin had three interceptions that could have been killers, and without the 83-yard touchdown play to Kevin Curtis, he passed for just 117 yards on 12 completions. While the passing offense is limited because of injuries, the play to Curtis did show the Jaguars that they would take some shots down the field.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- RB Steven Jackson did total 179 yards, but 87 came on two plays. A 51-yard run salted the game away for the Rams in the fourth quarter and enabled them to run out the clock. For the game, not including kneel-downs, the Rams called 31 running plays and 23 passes.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- With an undermanned secondary, the Rams limited WR Jimmy Smith to two receptions, although they had little answer to Ernest Wilford, who had six receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. Most important, on the Jaguars' last possession, QB Byron Leftwich had four straight incompletions from the Rams' 45-yard line when they needed about 15 yards to get into field-goal range.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Jaguars rushed for 221 yards and Fred Taylor had 165. But Taylor only had 51 yards after the first quarter, and totaled minus-4 yards on three fourth-quarter attempts. NT Ryan Pickett had a particularly active game with six tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The coverage units have been solid, although the return team remains poor. Kicker Jeff Wilkins made his one attempt, a 41-yard field goal. The big play was a blocked punt for a touchdown that jump-started the Rams to a 7-0 lead.

COACHING: A -- Interim coach Joe Vitt has kept the team focused and together, and his attention to detail has been what's necessary in a distracting time. The team has continued to play hard through adversity.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers are likely to start their fourth different quarterback in the five games on Sunday against the Giants. Cody Pickett, who prior to Oct. 18 was the team's fourth-stringer, is looking as if he will be the starter after injuries to rookie starter Alex Smith and backup Ken Dorsey. Tim Rattay, who began the season as the starter, was dealt to the Buccaneers at the NFL trade deadline.

"Right now, I'd expect Cody (to start)," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Based on what I saw yesterday, I'd say so." Dorsey sustained a left ankle sprain when Buccaneers defensive tackle Ellis Wyms pushed his way past right tackle Kwame Harris on a stunt. Wyms rolled onto Dorsey's legs after he completed a 7-yard pass to running back Kevan Barlow. Dorsey said an MRI revealed no structural damage to the ankle. He said he will rehabilitate aggressively in the next couple days in hopes of being ready to practice Wednesday and start Sunday against the Giants.

Dorsey had a rough day in his first starting assignment of the season. He completed just 7 of 18 passes for 40 yards. "I thought Ken would play at a little higher level than he did," Nolan said. "But he managed the offense well and we ran the ball well. By no means have I lost confidence in Ken because I believe in him. But he was looking too much to make the perfect play."

Pickett has proven to be one of the most versatile players on the 49ers' roster. He has spent most of the season lining up at receiver during practice. He has been active for three games, seeing time in each of those games on special teams before getting his first chance to play quarterback.

With the state of the 49ers' offense, Pickett might be a better fit for the team right now. On a team lacking playmakers, Pickett gives the club another weapon. "Cody can make something happen," Nolan said. "What I like about Ken is that he has great vision with his height. The mobility of Cody compared to what Ken gives us is different."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Typically mild-mannered defensive end Bryant Young got into a Thursday practice-field fight with rookie offensive lineman David Baas that some in the locker room believed got the 49ers more focused after their embarrassing 52-17 loss to the Redskins. Young tried to tear Baas' helmet off his head, then ripped off his own helmet and threw it during his uncharacteristic tantrum.

"Things like that give a coach and give a team a feeling that it is important to a lot of people," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Guys don't fight if it's not important to them."

When asked if the fight was a product of frustration getting the better of him, Young answered, "It was the product of a cheap shot."
Regardless, Young, who flipped out on the practice field, spoke to his teammates after practice that day to apologize for his actions. Then, Baas stood in front of the team and echoed Young's remarks.

"We needed that kind of intensity," Baas said.

--Quarterback Cody Pickett was forced into two roles in Sunday's game. After injuries to Terry Jackson and Chris Hetherington, Pickett had to enter the game as the "personal protector," the player that stands in front of the punter and calls out the signals. Pickett then ran down the field and made a tackle of Buccaneers punt returner Mark Jones after a 12-yard return. As he was going onto the field, Pickett noticed Dorsey was being helped off the field after sustaining an ankle sprain.
Pickett went back to the sideline after the tackle and got his quarterback helmet back on, and then finished the game. Pickett then was at quarterback when the 49ers had their best drive of the game, marching 42 yards for a field goal that gave the 49ers a five-point lead with around two minutes remaining.

"The guys play hard for him because he's a tough guy," Nolan said. "He's one of them."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Ken Dorsey does not look as if he will be able to start Sunday's game against the Giants after sustaining a left ankle sprain in the fourth quarter against the Buccaneers. Dorsey is listed questionable, but all signs point to Cody Pickett becoming the team's fourth starting quarterback in the last five games.

--QB Alex Smith probably will not be available for Sunday's game against the Giants with a right knee sprain. Smith did not suit up Sunday after sustaining the injury Oct. 23 against the Redskins.

--WR Arnaz Battle, who has been hampered by a right knee sprain for more than a month, is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, though coach Mike Nolan said he believes there is a chance he will be able to play in Sunday's game against the Giants.

--CB Ahmed Plummer, who has missed the last four games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his ankle, will likely miss at least two more games, coach Mike Nolan said.

--LT Jonas Jennings is likely to miss at least another game with a torn right labrum. It is possible Jennings will not play again this season. He will require surgery and a likely four-month rehabilitation. Jennings came to the 49ers after signing a seven-year, $36 million contract in the off-season that includes a $12 million signing bonus.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D-plus -- Quarterback Ken Dorsey struggled in his first start of the season, throwing for just 40 yards. But he also did not throw an interception or take a sack. Cody Pickett entered after Dorsey was injured, and completed his one pass attempt, a 10-yarder to Brandon Lloyd on third-and-8, and ran for another key first down.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The 49ers were finally able to go with their run game against the Bucs. Sure, they had 10 three-and-outs, but they also strung some things together on the ground. Kevan Barlow rushed for a season-high 101 yards on 26 carries, as the 49ers rushed for 158 yards on 39 attempts. The offensive line did a good job of creating running lanes for the backs, as the team went to a lot of two tight-end sets to implement its power game.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Other than one play when safety Mike Adams and cornerback Bruce Thornton took bad angles and allowed Joey Galloway to turn a short pass into a 78-yard TD, the pass defense was exceptional. Shawntae Spencer and Brandon Moore both recorded their first career interceptions, leading to field goals. Bryant Young had two of the team's five sacks of Chris Simms. Both of Young's sacks came in the closing minutes with the 49ers protecting a lead.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers knew the Bucs would be one-dimensional with Simms at quarterback, so the defense turned its attention to stopping "Cadillac" Williams. The 49ers put the clamps on Williams, who gained just 20 yards on 13 carries. The Bucs gained just one first down rushing.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- This phase of the 49ers' game did not do anything spectacular, but they managed to keep the Buccaneers' offense pinned deep in 49ers' territory the entire game. Andy Lee averaged 37.8 net yards on nine punts. The 49ers' average drive started at their own 40, while Tampa Bay's average starting spot was the 24.

COACHING: A -- The 49ers rebounded from a 35-point loss to the Redskins to record the upset victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday. The offense made a commitment to the run game and stuck with it for the whole game. Defensively, they took away the Bucs' run game and then turned the heat up on Simms, who looked overmatched in his first start of the season. It was not a pretty victory, but it was an impressive win all the same.


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