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QB Gradkowski makes first career start for Bucs

Oct 3, 2006 - 11:38 PM Tampa Bay (0-3) at New Orleans (3-1) Sunday 1:00 pm EDT

NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South last season. Now they are banking on a rookie to help save their 2006 season.

Sixth-round pick Bruce Gradkowski makes his first career start Sunday when the Buccaneers visit the New Orleans Saints, who will play their second game in the Superdome.

In what already had been a disappointing start, the Bucs were dealt another blow when starting quarterback Chris Simms had his spleen removed hours after a 26-24 loss to Carolina on September 24.

At Toledo, Gradkowski played in the Mid-American Conference that has produced current NFL quarterbacks Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Frye. Gradkowski became the first quarterback in Division I-A history to complete over 70 percent of his passes in consecutive seasons when he accomplished the feat in 2003 and 2004.

Bucs coach Jon Gruden likely will simplify the offense for Gradkowski, who has completed 2-of-6 passes for 20 yards in two games.

Gruden also will rely more on running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who has rushed for just 107 yards on 42 attempts and one touchdown in three games.

Williams gained 48 yards on 19 carries with a TD in the loss against the Panthers. Tampa Bay had its bye last week.

The surprising Saints are coming off their first loss of the season after dropping a 21-18 decision at Carolina last Sunday.

Drew Brees enjoyed another big game against the Panthers, completing 28-of-38 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown. He has completed over 63 percent of his passes in each of his last three games, with a pair of 300-yard games during that span.

This marks the first of three straight home games for the Saints, who have sold out all eight of their contests at the Superdome. Two weeks ago, the Saints made an emotional return home with a 23-3 victory over Atlanta on Monday night.

Tampa Bay won both meetings from New Orleans last season.

Cornerback Ronde Barber had three interceptions to lead the Bucs to a 10-3 victory over the Saints in the first meeting between the teams on the campus of Louisiana State University on December 4.

On January 1, the Bucs wrapped up their division title with a 27-13 victory. Simms threw for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

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