Buccaneers win over Texans proves costly

TAMPA, Fla. -- Chris Simms hopes he hasn't played his last game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The fifth-year pro spent Thursday night walking the sideline with a hip strain, leaving Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski to state their final cases for being the team's backup quarterbacks in a 31-24 preseason-ending victory over the Houston Texans.

"It's not bad. It's not like anything that's going to hold me out for a long period of time," Simms said. "If I had to run for a first down or anything like that, I don't think I could have done that tonight."

That was news to coach Jon Gruden, who said he didn't when or how Simms was injured and that the quarterback scratched himself from the game.

"I don't know exactly what this injury is or how it occurred," Gruden said. "It's unfortunate. I'm very disappointed that he couldn't get a chance to play tonight because he's a great kid and got a lot of promise."

McCown threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, and Gradkowski threw a 31-yard scoring pass to Paris Warren with three minutes remaining to put the Bucs (3-1) ahead for good.

The touchdown catch was Warren's second of the night and proved costly to Tampa Bay. The third-year receiver, who had seven receptions for 110 yards, dislocated his left ankle when he was tackled as he crossed the goal line and had to be carted off the field.

Warren, who's out for the season, was injured when he was tackled by Houston's Dexter McCleon. The entire Tampa Bay bench left the sideline to stand around Warren as he received medical attention and was lifted on the cart.

Simms did not play for the third time in four preseason games. The biggest question Gruden faces in trimming his squad to 53 players on Saturday is what he'll do with the fifth-year pro, who missed most of last season after having surgery to remove his spleen.

Simms has been throwing since December, but has struggled to regain his form and compete for a job behind starter Jeff Garcia. He sat out the first two preseason games, then played six snaps last week at Miami.

"I was eager to see him play. I've been eager to get him going. Obviously it's a disappointment, but you've got to like what Luke McCown did," Gruden said. "That's the story line here, Gradkowski and McCown played pretty good. I'm tired of talking about the injury to Chris."

Simms said he strained his hip on Tuesday. He said he feels he is progressing each week and hasn't given up hope of playing this season.

"I played last week, so it's not like I'm far off," Simms said. "I'm not going to say I was 100 percent last week when I played, but I'm getting there."

McCown likely solidified himself as No. 2 on the depth chart. Gradkowski, who started 11 games after Simms was injured last September, is the clear No. 3 -- meaning unless Simms is placed on injured reserve or released, the Bucs will go into the regular season with four quarterbacks.

The top priority for both teams was keeping regulars healthy and taking one more look at young players still trying to earn jobs.

Houston's top offseason acquisition, quarterback Matt Schaub, didn't play, and Tampa Bay rested all of its regulars except second-year receiver Marcus Stovall and safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips.

The absence of the first-team defenses was reflected in a high-scoring opening half in which the Bucs fell behind 14-0 before McCown threw touchdown passes to Warren, B.J. Askew and Lionel Gates on the way to a 24-17 halftime lead.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak entered the game needing to make tough decisions at a number of positions, including receiver, where Keenan McCardell, David Anderson, Andre Davis and Bethel Johnson are candidates for one or possibly two spots.

With Schaub sitting out, Sage Rosenfels started for the Texans. Kubiak planned to play him a couple of series, but saw enough from his backup on opening drive to give Rosenfels -- 5-for-5 for 63 yards, with a 3-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones -- the rest of the night off.

In addition to completing 16 of 21 passes, McCown had two turnovers the Texans turned into 10 points.

Jamar Fletcher picked up the quarterback's fumble and ran 36 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, then intercepted an underthrown pass that appeared to slip out of McCown's hand to set up Kris Brown's 39-yard field goal just before the half.

Jared Zabransky replaced Rosenfels and played the rest of the game for the Texans (2-2). The rookie from Boise State led a touchdown drive that made it 24-24 in the third quarter and finished 12-of-22 for 117 yards and one interception.

"I think the kid has shown that he can play this game," Kubiak said. "There is a lot he has to learn, but he definitely showed us some things tonight to warrant us taking a second look at him."

Notes: Bucs TE Jeremy Stevens bolstered his chances of making the team with seven catches for 100 yards. ... Houston RB Wali Lundy scored on 1-yard run in the third quarter and led the Texans in rushing with 50 yards on eight carries. ... McCardell, Anderson, Johnson and Davis each had one reception for the Texans.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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