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At QB, Bucs rely on an heir attack

He continues to stand tall in the pocket, with model looks and the winning smile of a pretty boy surfer.

He still sports a rocket launcher of an arm that can leave an unsuspecting receiver wishing he were wearing a bulletproof vest rather than shoulder pads.

And even now he carries the baggage that others packed for him: He is the son of a former NFL star quarterback, so he is supposed to be spoiled, he is supposed to be a soft rich kid, he is supposed to be living off his daddy's reputation -- and he is not supposed to be this good.

But as he has done since someone first said he is not the player his father was, Chris Simms is proving the doubters wrong.

Poised, patient, and almost perfect.

That is what Tampa Bay has gotten from its quarterback the past few games, and what the Buccaneers hope to get from him when they visit the Patriots Saturday.

Phil Simms's son is proving that he belongs in this league.

Simms was superb Sunday, completing 20 of 27 passes in a 20-10 win over Carolina that moved Tampa into a first-place tie with the Panthers in the NFC South.

''He's throwing the ball great," Tampa coach Jon Gruden said. ''He had 20 completions, and four [others] were dropped. The balls were laid right in there. He's throwing the ball extremely accurate.

''He's seeing the game. He has a sense of pressure, and he is a pretty athletic guy for a big guy. We are excited about what he has done and I think he knows he has work to do, but he is making progress."

No matter what Simms does, he will have a difficult time shaking the legacy of his father. Peyton Manning faced a similar challenge playing the same position as his dad, but Archie Manning didn't win a Super Bowl. And he didn't do it playing a nearly perfect game for a team from New York. Phil Simms completed 22 of 25 passes with three touchdowns in the Giants' 39-20 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXI.

''Chris has been under the microscope since high school, and at the University of Texas, and more so everywhere he's been because of who his father is, but he's not fazed by that," said Doug Williams, a player personnel executive for the Bucs. ''Chris very well knows who he is, he knows the family he comes from, and he knows who his daddy is. But if you didn't know he was Phil Simms's son, he wouldn't tell you.

''He's worried about Chris Simms, and what he has to do to be successful, and that's his focus."

Pressure and criticism are nothing new for Simms, who remembers fans at the Meadowlands disparaging his father's play at times. A somewhat controversial switch from Tennessee to Texas late in his recruitment, when he was the national high school player of the year, made him a hated figure at Peyton Manning's alma mater. Then there was a battle for the Longhorns' starting job with cult figure Major Applewhite. Simms got plenty of hate mail, but kept plugging.

At times, those around Simms, particularly some of his college coaches at Texas, opined that perfection wouldn't be good enough to remove the shadow of doubt from skeptics.

Though quite a ways from perfect, Simms's play the past month has put him in the discussion of the top young quarterbacks in the game.

He took over as the starter when Brian Griese tore ligaments in his left knee in October. In his first start against the 49ers on Oct. 30, Simms completed 21 of 34 passes for 264 yards, but he turned the ball over three times (two interceptions and a fumble) and the Bucs managed only 10 points in defeat.

That was a shaky Simms, not the confident team leader he has been of late. In his past five starts, Simms has completed 77 of 126 passes for 860 yards, with four touchdowns and just one interception.

Tampa is 4-1 in that stretch, with the loss coming after Simms drove the team within range of a 29-yard field goal attempt that Matt Bryant missed in a 13-10 loss to the Bears. That was after a pair of last-minute drives produced victories over Washington and Atlanta.

''That first start out in San Francisco was one of those situations where his feet were thrown into the fire, and I don't know if he had gotten a chance to settle down," Williams said. ''Over the last few weeks, we've seen a different Chris Simms. He's been in total control on the field. The coaches have put him in position to make plays, and manage the game, and he has done that very well."

Williams, who like Simms's father had an MVP effort in a Super Bowl victory, has gotten to know Simms over the past two seasons and likes what he sees.

''He's a fun-loving guy, always with a smile," Williams said. ''I don't know anybody that doesn't like Chris Simms. With everything that he's had to take on, you might think he was wound tight, but he's relaxed and cool."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator when the elder Simms ran the offense there, said he saw Chris's potential when he scouted him before the 2003 draft.

''I think you look at Chris [in college] and you see a pro quarterback," Belichick said. ''He was playing in college, but you see a pro quarterback, drop back and throw it, read coverages like a pro guy would do it."

Simms ended up being the sixth quarterback taken in the draft. Carson Palmer (No. 1 overall to Cincinnati), Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville), Kyle Boller (Baltimore), and Rex Grossman (Chicago) all went in the first round. Dave Ragone went in the third round to the Texans, nine picks before the Bucs selected the 6-4, 220-pound lefthander.

At the time, Gruden said his team was ''fortunate" Simms was available.

''There were probably other guys that were a little higher-rated, and obviously were drafted higher," said Belichick, ''but it wasn't like he didn't have talent and didn't have all the makings . . . attributes that an NFL quarterback has: poise, leadership, intelligence, arm strength, accuracy, touch."

Others are starting to see those skills, now that Simms is more comfortable in the Bucs' West Coast offense, which is a far cry from the vertical attack he led at Texas. The past two weeks, he has been error-free, with no turnovers in methodical wins over New Orleans and Carolina.

Saturday will be just his 10th start in the NFL.

''It's a credit to him. [Quarterbacks coach] Paul Hackett deserves credit, too," Gruden said. ''The turnovers that he did have, a couple of them were preventable on his part, and a couple of them, there's nothing you can do when you get blindsided, when you don't see the rush coming.

''I think he realizes that one of the key ingredients to winning in football is good decision-making and not turning the ball over, don't put your team in bad situations.

''The players are responding to him."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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