TAMPA — The score was tied early in the second quarter Sunday when Bucs Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy went down with an injury to his left calf.
He didn't return to the game, and the Bucs didn't score again, falling 27-7 to the Broncos on Sunday. The question now is how long McCoy will be out and whether the Bucs can win without the center of their defensive front.
"Gerald is one of our leaders. … When he was in there, (he) was dominating," LB Lavonte David said. "We lost one of our leaders. Now we have to have the next guys step up. Guys around him have to play even harder, even better. … You can't replace Gerald."
McCoy went down on the field and had to stop several times as he walked off the field with trainers. He was evaluated on the sideline, his left sock and shoe removed, and then he walked gingerly to the locker room and was not seen again.
McCoy has played through several injuries in recent years, missing only four games in the past two seasons despite shoulder, hand and other injuries.
Two other Bucs also went down with injuries. Rookie DE Noah Spence, who made his first start replacing another injured defensive end, hurt his right shoulder, and TE Brandon Myers injured a hip while playing more as a replacement for injured TE Luke Stocker.
McCoy was walking without crutches after the game but had a boot on his lower left leg. Spence had his right arm in a sling as he left the locker room.
The Bucs started the game with four regulars out for the second week in a row with injuries: Stocker, RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers and WR Cecil Shorts.
So the Bucs finished the day with seven players out of 53 sidelined, not counting three on injured reserve and two on the physically unable to perform list.
DELAY OF GAME: For the second week in a row, the NFL scheduled a 4 p.m. game in Florida and, yes, dealt with a fourth-quarter delay due to lightning.
Last week it was a 70-minute delay with two minutes left in a loss to the Rams. Sunday it was an 86-minute delay with 6:52 left and the Broncos leading 27-7. Play resumed at 8:20 p.m. with heavy rain still falling.
The Bucs still have one more 4:05 p.m. home kickoff, Nov. 27 against the Seahawks.
STRUGGLING: RB Charles Sims, making his second start in place of Martin, could not consistently move the ball, gaining 28 yards on 15 carries for an average of just 1.9 yards per carry. And though Sims had 50-plus receiving yards last week, he had two catches for just 7 yards against the Broncos.
Backup Jacquizz Rodgers fared slightly better, with 25 yards on six carries with a long of 12.
MAKING A CHANGE: The Bucs benched veteran CB Alterraun Verner, who had been part of the nickel defense, replacing him with second-year CB Jude Adjei-Barimah, who didn't play a snap on defense against the Rams.
"They wanted to shake things up, to see if they can get this defense going," Verner said.
Adjei-Barimah had one tackle and one pass defensed as the nickel corner, with rookie Vernon Hargreaves staying outside the entire game.
WAIT, WHAT? Down 27-7 with 7:22 to play, the Bucs faced fourth and 6 from the Broncos' 46-yard line … and opted to punt. The punt was downed at the Denver 11 for a field-position gain, but with the Bucs needing three scores in seven minutes, they essentially threw in the towel.
YOUNG QBs: The Bucs have lost seven straight games against quarterbacks playing in their first five NFL games. The Broncos had two of them, with Trevor Siemian starting his fifth NFL game and rookie Paxton Lynch, who made his NFL debut when Siemian was hurt in the first half and played the entire second half.
The common thread in the seven losses? The Bucs can't make even inexperienced quarterbacks throw interceptions. In those losses, opposing quarterbacks had more than 240 passes and just one interception — not by Siemian or Lynch — against 10 touchdown passes.
THIS AND THAT: Rookie S Ryan Smith took over on kickoff returns with limited success. He totaled 27 yards on two returns, with the rest going as touchbacks. … WR Adam Humphries, who had career highs with nine catches for 100 yards last week, couldn't repeat that success, getting four targets Sunday but managing just one catch for 4 yards. … Bucs P Bryan Anger continues to play well and get plenty of work. He averaged 46.6 yards on seven punts, including three dropped inside the 20.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.