TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Chris Simms spent the night walking the sideline, leaving Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski to state their final cases for being Tampa Bay’s backup quarterbacks.
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 give the Buccaneers a preseason-ending 31-24 victory over the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
The TD catch was Warren’s second of the night and proved costly to the Bucs. The third-year receiver, who had seven receptions for 110 yards, injured his left leg when he was tackled as he crossed the goal line and had to be carted off the field.
Warren 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 Tampa Bay coach Jon 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.
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.
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 TD 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.