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Chris crinkled

PATRIOTS 28, BUCS 0: The Pats pressure Chris Simms throughout, sack him seven times, hurt his thumb and hold the Bucs, who were knocked out of first, to a season-low 138 yards.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2005

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Mike Vrabel sacks Chris Simms and forces a fumble.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The thumb on his throwing hand was sore and swollen. He stepped gingerly, like a man walking across broken glass. Under each eye, a welt was growing.

If you want to know how bad the Patriots clobbered the Bucs on Saturday, take a look at what they did to the quarterback.

Chris Simms was sacked seven times, knocked down 11 times, hurried 13 times and fumbled twice, one leading to a touchdown. The result was a 28-0 loss to the Patriots, who held Tampa Bay to a season-low 138 yards.

It was the Bucs' first shutout loss since 1999 and dropped them to 9-5, a half-game behind Carolina (9-4), which leads the NFC South and faces New Orleans today. But like Simms, the Bucs have to pick themselves up.

A brutal stretch of three straight road games produced a 2-1 record, and Tampa Bay players say they can't dwell on a bad performance against the two-time defending Super Bowl champions.

The Bucs will be just glad to get home to play consecutive division games against the Falcons on Christmas Eve and Saints on Jan. 1.

"It's tough," coach Jon Gruden said. "I've done this a long enough time to tell you that three-game roadstands late in the season don't happen often. I told our team after the game we're not just going to brush this under the rug and say it's a mulligan or whatever.

"We didn't play well enough. I take credit for that. But we do have a good football team, a young team in some ways. Hopefully, they learn from this. But we lost to a damn good football team for a good reason."

How good?

The Patriots clinched the AFC East Saturday for the fourth time in five seasons and third in a row.

Quarterback Tom Brady showed no ill effects from an injured shin that prevented him from practicing several days last week and threw three touchdowns, including a 1-yarder to tackle Tom Ashworth, who lined up at fullback.

Meanwhile, New England's defense shut down the Bucs. It held Cadillac Williams to just 23 yards on 14 rushes, including nine carries for 2 yards or fewer. And the Patriots' blitzing linebackers beat Simms like a pinata.

"Of course, you don't like it," said Simms, who had been sacked just six times in the five previous games combined. "It makes it tough. It was just one of those games. You've just got to hang in there, and you've got to realize sometimes ... there might be a guy open down the field but I was about to get hit and I just had to throw it out in the flat or whatever else just to get the ball out of my hands. It was just one of those games. It's not fun. But again, we can survive, and I'll definitely survive."

The Bucs trailed 7-0 after Brady led a 76-yard drive on the opening possession of the game, capped by Ashworth's touchdown.

Tampa Bay's defense hung tough until a roughing the punter penalty on linebacker Ryan Nece led to a collapse just before halftime. Corey Dillon made it 14-0 on a 3-yard run with 2:08 left, and linebacker Mike Vrabel's blindside hit on Simms forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Willie McGinest.

That led to Brady's 16-yard touchdown pass to David Givens, who finished with a career-high 137 yards on six receptions, with 27 seconds left. "You don't want to be in that position against the two-time defending world champions," Simms said. "But going down 21-0 at half against a defense like that ... we knew we had an uphill climb."

Nece and other Bucs players didn't agree with the roughing the punter call, but they reached an accord that it was the turning point of the game.

"It's a critical play; if you want to put a point in the game where it turned for the worse," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Not that that play should've determined the outcome of the game, but it seemed after that point, it kind of snowballed on us. That was a play we gave them, and a subsequent (conversion on third and 16) after that play, those are the kinds of plays that kill you."

The task for the Bucs was to put Saturday's shutout, the first since Gruden's Raiders beat Tampa Bay 45-0 in 1999, behind them quickly. That's what was being whispered in the tunnel at Gillette Stadium before players and coaches even reached the locker room.

"You try to do it immediately," receiver Joey Galloway said. "That's the name of the game. How quickly can you do it?

"It's tough, though. Everybody's down right now. Everybody feels bad. I think all of us will have plays and situations in our mind we wish we could do over. So that's tough. Hopefully by (today), the focus shifts to getting the next one."

But it's hard to remain upbeat when you're so beat up.

"We really are enthused, obviously, about playing a home game," Gruden said. "We've been on the road for a long time. It's been a fun, exciting experience. But we need our fans. Obviously, they're looking forward to going home and licking their wounds and finishing this season as strong as we can.

"We've got no mercy coming next week in Atlanta."

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:02:23]

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