It’s been a rough year for the Bucs, and they already knew they were short-handed on the injury front going into Monday night against the Falcons. Unfortunately, as the eventual 24-21 loss to Atlanta unfolded, Tampa Bay lost starting player after starting player.
In fact, at one point or another, the Buccaneers had 11 players go out of the game with injury.
And, several of them could not, and did not, return.
Yet, there they were in the final two minutes of the game, getting a key third down stop on QB Matt Ryan and company with numerous defensive starters not on the field. Then, quickly moving without a timeout across the 50 with a chance to tie the game and force overtime with a field goal. Alas, it was not to be, as Patrick Murray missed the 54 yarder wide right.
And you wonder, who in Pewter and Red would have been left to play the extra period had the kick gone through?
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, summed it up to the media just before midnight, “I don’t know if I’ve been in a game where we had that many guys [injured]. Some of them were able to come back, shoot I think [cornerback] Ryan Smith was hurt five different times in the game.
Koetter continued, “really proud of the way we used every single guy on that roster. We had guys stepping in to roles that they are not used to playing. Really proud of the way we battled.”
The avalanche of injury started in the first quarter, as the Buccaneers lost tight end Cam Brate to a knee injury that kept him out for the remainder of the half. On the Bucs second possession, speedy wideout DeSean Jackson suffered a sprained left ankle after a catch and would not return.
Then, on his 30 yard catch and run down the sideline and into the endz one to tie the game at 7-7, rookie tight end O.J. Howard was hit on his right ankle, while lunging for the pylon. After getting the ankle re-taped, Howard played a few plays, but could not plant and run, and did not return in the second half.
As the game wore on, the Buccaneers continued to suffer additional losses. These included rookie starting safety Justin Evans suffering a left leg injury in the first half and being unable to return. And then a scary, gruesome moment in the second half, when defensive end Robert Ayers and linebacker Adarius Glanton collided at near full speed while trying to sandwich Ryan on a sack.
Ayers left the game with a left shoulder/neck “stinger” and did not return. But even worse, Glanton who was already replacing injured Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David, suffered an awful lower left leg fracture and was carted off the field (photo above) in an air cast.
The Bucs were also knew they would be without their best defender, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who suffered a biceps tear in the loss last Sunday against Detroit.
Full credit goes to the Falcons, who won the game and kept their NFC playoff hopes alive, but give some credit to “the beat up Bucs,” too.
They could have easily given up in this one, with their record 4-9 already, as the injuries continued to mount. They did not. And, gave themselves chances at the end to tie or win the game in the fourth quarter.
Koetter was asked about that effort post game, too. “I’m proud of how hard we played. You’re judged on results, we’re all judged on results. The object of the game is to win. But, I’m really proud of the way we competed tonight and the way we battled. He summed it up with, “shoot, there’s no shame in that. Those guys played their asses off. It wasn’t enough, we had chances.”
Despite losing bodies, and playing some backups most fans had not heard of, they most certainly did.
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