TAMPA — Call it the Carolina curse.
For the third time in as many years, the Bucs lost a starting player after their first meeting of the season with the Panthers.
Fullback Byron Storer said he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while covering a kickoff in Sunday's 27-3 win over Carolina. He is expected to be placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Storer joins a growing list of Bucs who have paid a high price for playing the Panthers. Two years ago, quarterback Chris Simms ruptured his spleen in the first of two games with Carolina. Last season, running back Cadillac Williams (torn patellar tendon) and tackle Luke Petitgout (torn knee ligaments) suffered season-ending injuries against the NFC South rival.
None of those players have participated in a regular-season NFL game since.
"We're in trouble right now at fullback," coach Jon Gruden said Monday.
Starting fullback B.J. Askew has missed the past three games with a torn hamstring and is likely at least a week away from returning.
With the trade deadline today, the avenues for the Bucs to acquire a fullback are dwindling.
Tampa Bay may opt to sign a free agent with experience in the system such as Jameel Cook, who was released by the Houston Texans this year.
Meanwhile, Storer, a second-year player who had done an admirable job filling in for Askew, is dealing with the first major injury of his career.
"It's bad news," Storer said Monday while wearing a knee brace. "I was just trying to play over the top of a guy and the leg gave out. It wasn't a hit or anything. It was the funniest thing. … I had never had problems with knees or anything. I've never really have a major injury."
Storer is not alone. The Bucs had two other serious injuries Sunday: Starting left guard Arron Sears sprained his right knee, and receiver Maurice Stovall pulled a hamstring. Neither finished Sunday's game.
On Sunday, the Bucs benefited from Earnest Graham's willingness to play fullback and block the rest of the game for Warrick Dunn, who finished with 115 rushing yards.
Tight end Alex Smith is the emergency fullback, but asking Graham to change roles is not in the plan.
"You know what? Earnest is a heck of a tailback," Gruden said of his team's leading rusher. "We possibly could be looking for a fullback. Obviously, moving a tight end into that position has always been a part of our contingency plan."
When Askew got hurt at Chicago, he was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. He still hasn't run but said Monday that he possibly could play Sunday against Seattle.
"I still have to get out there and actually do some running to weigh the risk factor versus the reward factor," he said. "It's just one of those things where it's going to take time and we have to see how it goes.
"I think it's realistic (I could play this week). I think I could've played the week after I did it, but that's just the mind-set I have."
The Bucs might get some good news on injuries. Receiver Joey Galloway, out the past four games with a right foot sprain, is expected to practice Wednesday and could play against the Seahawks.
"Galloway goes out there before the game and my brother, Jay, threw him about a hundred balls," Gruden said. "There's a chance he'll give it a go on Wednesday. I would say he's questionable at this point for Seattle. It's his former team, the team that drafted him. It's probably a little incentive for him to go up against his former team, but I don't know."
Ironically, considering the injuries, the Bucs will honor retired fullback Mike Alstott on Sunday. Alstott's neck problems began in 2003 during a game against — you guessed it — Carolina.
"We're going to have to do something," Gruden said. "We are a two-back team. Mike Alstott will be celebrated Sunday night. I might talk him in to playing. It's going to be a great reunion with our former captain, and given our circumstances, we can talk to him about giving us one more shot."