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Bucs place tight end O.J. Howard on injured reserve with foot, ankle injuries

O.J. Howard sustained separate injuries on the same play during the Bucs' 38-35 loss to the Giants Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard, pictured during a loss to Washington earlier this month in Tampa, has been placed on injured reserve. [Times files]
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard, pictured during a loss to Washington earlier this month in Tampa, has been placed on injured reserve. [Times files]
Published Nov. 20, 2018
Updated Nov. 21, 2018

TAMPA — Bucs tight end O.J. Howard, who was in the midst of a breakout season in his second year as a pro, will miss the end of the season with foot and ankle injuries suffered late in Sunday's loss to the Giants.

The team placed Howard on injured reserve Tuesday. Howard sustained separate injuries on the same play in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' 38-35 road loss.

Late in the fourth quarter, Howard caught a pass down the middle of the field for a 24-yard gain before he was taken down from behind at the 8-yard line by linebacker Tae Davis.

Davis' weight came down on Howard's right leg. Howard walked off the field under his own power, but didn't return.

Howard, the Bucs' first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft (19th overall), had emerged as one of the game's top big-play tight ends. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, his 16.62 yards per reception is the best in the NFL among starting tight ends.

Howard's 565 receiving yards ranked fifth in the league among tight ends, and his five receiving touchdowns tied for third most at the position. He had 78 receiving yards — his second highest total this season — on five catches Sunday.

Howard also finished last season on injured reserve, injuring his ankles in the Bucs' 14th game.

The latest injury to Howard will mean more targets and playing time for Cameron Brate, who has only six catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns in the past three games.

As Howard continued to emerge as the top tight-end pass-catching threat, Brate's receiving role diminished. Brate hasn't logged more than three catches or 34 receiving yards in any game this season. He's been held to fewer than 20 receiving yards in seven games, including a two-catch, 16-yard outing against the Giants.

Brate averaged 52 catches, 625 yards and seven touchdown receptions from 2016-17.

"We've just got to keep plugging away," tackle Donovan Smith said. "We've got great guys all across the offense. Yeah, it's going to (stink) not having O.J. … and that's losing a key piece, but we've just got to keep plugging away. Guys got to step up — Antony (Auclair), Alan Cross, Cam (Brate) and our receivers and just us as a team."