Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Knee injury likely to sideline Bucs receiver Jackson

TAMPA — His list of accomplishments — three Pro Bowls, four straight 1,000-yard seasons — keeps going and going, just like Vincent Jackson.

That's why it's so shocking that the Bucs' 32-year-old receiver is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Falcons with a knee injury he sustained early in the third quarter of 31-30 loss at Washington. It will end the longest active playing streak of any Bucs player at 74 games, including 54 straight for Tampa Bay.

It also further depletes a position that already lost Louis Murphy for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered against the Redskins on Sunday.

"It changes it a lot," receiver Mike Evans said. "We're losing one of the best in the game. So now we don't have that guy you can throw it to. He's a leader for us, he's a captain. He makes it so much easier for me, even since last year. It's like having an extra coach on the field."

Instead, the Bucs will be forced to lean on three receivers who own exactly as many career receptions as Evans had during his eight-catch, 164-yard, one-touchdown performance Sunday.

Donteea Dye, a rookie free agent from Division III Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, made his first and only career reception count with a 7-yard touchdown from Jameis Winston. The Bucs hope to get receiver Russell Shepard back from a hamstring injury, and they signed rookie Adam Humphries from the practice squad.

What could also add to the targets for Winston is the return of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has not played since Week 2 with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder but practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.

"(Jackson) didn't practice" Wednesday, coach Lovie Smith said. "He has a knee injury. As far as multiple (weeks), we're not ready to go into much detail on that because we don't know more. It hasn't been that long since the game. He wasn't able to finish the game. He wasn't able to practice today. That's where we are right now."

Where the Bucs found themselves Sunday was having to change their game plan after Murphy and Jackson went down, leaving Evans and Dye as their only healthy receivers.

"You're down to two wide receivers, so about half our call sheet was out the window in the second half," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.

"It's unfortunate. I've never had that happen before where we couldn't run everything that we wanted to run. We were juggling some stuff around with the tight ends — getting an extra tight end in there. Our three tight ends did an awesome job of doing some things that we hadn't practiced from basically the first play of the second half on. It did affect how we called stuff, because one thing is, now when you get in your three (wide receiver sets), you can't guarantee whether you are going to get them in (their nickel defense). They now control it a lot more than we have control. That's unfortunate, but that really didn't have an impact on the game."

Humphries, a rookie from Clemson, made the team out of training camp based on a strong preseason. But he has spent the past month on the practice squad and owns only two career receptions. Shepard, a former quarterback at LSU, has excelled covering kicks on special teams. He has five career receptions, including a catch in the opener against the Titans. Shepard would most likely start opposite Evans as the team's No. 2 receiver.

Dye became emotional celebrating his first touchdown Sunday thinking about his unlikely journey to the NFL.

"Explosive, excellent speed, tough and just one of those guys nobody knows much about him because he's from a small school," Koetter said. "But he's done nothing but improve since he's been here. Some rookies start off strong in (organized team activities), maybe through training camp and then they plateau out. D.D. has continued to ascend throughout the season. He'll do fine if that's the case."

Without Jackson, the pressure will be on Evans, who figures to receive more attention from the Falcons defense.

"I don't know if he'll be (inactive) or not," Evans said of Jackson. "But if he is, I'm just going to do what I always do — just try to make plays when the ball comes my way and play hard in the run game."

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