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83-Steelers-43
12-04-2006, 07:25 AM
Gradkowski's homecoming spoiled

By Joe Starkey
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, December 4, 2006


Bruce Gradkowski, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie quarterback, partook in two festive meals over the weekend.

At the first, he was the guest of honor.

At the second, he was the main course.

The Steelers devoured the Dormont native in his homecoming Sunday, sacking him five times and intercepting three of his passes in a 20-3 victory at Heinz Field.

"It was an amazing opportunity," said Gradkowski, a former Seton La-Salle High School and University of Toledo star. "I wish we could have put on a better show."

Gradkowski estimated that more than 100 friends and relatives attended the game. Several sat in a luxury suite, where FOX television cameras often captured them agonizing over another Buccaneers' blunder.

The night before the game, Gradkowski brought some teammates to his Dormont home for a homecooked Italian meal, courtesy of his mother, Debbie, and his aunts.

"It was a great time just to bond a little bit," Gradkowski said.

It turned out to be the highlight of the weekend. The Steelers harassed Gradkowski from the first series, when linebacker Joey Porter recorded the first of his two sacks. Gradkowski's teammates didn't help much. Third-year receiver Michael Clayton dropped a sure touchdown pass in the third quarter, and veteran receiver Ike Hilliard had one bounce off his hands in the end zone late in the game.

The Buccaneers are among the NFL's leaders with more than 20 dropped passes.

"It's contagious," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's a disease that certainly has us right now."

Delirium appeared to set in with Gruden, too, when he opted for a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the game, instead of going for the end zone.

"I'm sure I'll be criticized for that," Gruden said. "I just wanted our quarterback to leave Pittsburgh with something. We left Pittsburgh with a field goal."

Gruden was critical of Gradkowski, saying his quarterback took sacks he "shouldn't have" and made a "bad throw" on a third-quarter fade route that was intercepted by Bryant McFadden in the end zone. It was hard to argue on either count, but Gruden also figures Gradkowski's struggles are understandable.

Gradkowski is, after all, a sixth-round pick who wouldn't have played this season if it hadn't been for an injury to starter Chris Simms.

In nine starts, Gradkowski is 3-6. He has completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 1,503 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was 20 for 34 yesterday for 175 yards and a paltry passer rating of 35.8 in operating Gruden's Rush Limbaugh offense (very conservative).

Gradkowski's past three games have been particularly harrowing. Gruden was asked if he is worried about his quarterback's confidence.

"I'm worried about every part of Bruce Gradkowski's whole life," Gruden said. "He's been through a lot in the past three weeks. If you would have told me he was going to be playing on "Monday Night Football" at Carolina, Thanksgiving Day against Dallas and at the defending world champions in his hometown in about a three-week span, I would say that's about as tough an order as you could ask any man to do.

"There've been some good moments. There've been some dark moments. I just remind everybody he's a very young quarterback who really has an upside. Unfortunately, it just really didn't come through clear as day tonight."

What did come through clear as day was the Steelers' defense, which attacked Gradkowski from every conceivable angle and encountered little resistance.

"Too bad it was in his hometown, but, hey," said Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who had an interception. "We give problems to a 10-year quarterback."

On one fourth-quarter play, Gradkowski sacked himself, plopping to the ground just before Deshea Townsend could bury him.

"Our defense can confuse any rookie quarterback," Porter said.

This was nothing like Gradkowski's last game against a team from Pittsburgh. In that one, played Sept. 20, 2002, he was playing for Toledo and completed 49-of-62 passes for 461 yards in an upset victory over Pitt.

The Steelers passed on Gradkowski in the draft, taking Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs instead. Debbie Gradkowski reminded her son of that fact in order to "get him fired up."

It didn't work. Nothing did. But Gradkowski still took something positive from the experience.

"I'm glad my family got to see me play, and all the friends back home who have been cheering for me since day one," he said. "I know they're proud of me, no matter what."

Rookie QBs
A comparison of three starting rookie quarterbacks:

Player / Team / W-L / Comp.-Att. / Pct. Yds / TD / INT
Vince Young Tenn. 5-4 129-256 50.4 1,486 10 10
Bruce Gradkowski TB 3-6 159-293 54.3 1,503 9 9
Matt Leinart Ariz. 2-6 164-295 54.2 1,939 8 9


http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_482570.html

83-Steelers-43
12-04-2006, 07:28 AM
Felt bad for the Pittsburgh kid. No running game/no offensive line. I wish him luck with the rest of his season.

HometownGal
12-04-2006, 08:52 AM
I feel badly for this kid, as well, but hey - he went out there in front of the hometown crowd and gave it his all. Had Clayton and Hilliard not dropped those passes, he may very well have been a hero. He's had some bright spots this season in wins over the Bungles and the Eagles and played well in several of the Bucs' losses. With that OL, not much help from the running attack and the Bucs' receivers having the dropsies most of the season, I don't think Chris Simms would have fared much better, quite frankly. Best of luck to Bruce in his career! :cheers:

Atlanta Dan
12-04-2006, 09:15 AM
It is a nice story, but they can tell me about it in pre-game and then just broadcast the game.

The interview with his Dad while the game is going on (in which they cut back after the snap) was a typical Fox Sports stunt (in every sport - baseball, football, and college basketball) in showing everything other than what is on the field. The only thing that is worse are the laughably bad Monday Night interviews with folks such as Jay-Z who happen to "drop by" the booth during the game.

I can only imagine how Fox will manage to miss plays with "fans in the stands" camera shots, pointless interviews, and arcane camera angles where you cannot follow the play during the BCS games it will have this year. I am glad CBS broadcasts the AFC and most Steelers games.