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O.J. Howard’s injury may be a season-ending one

The Bucs tight end likely has a ruptured Achilles, according to coach Bruce Arians.
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) is tackled by Los Angeles Chargers safety Nasir Adderley (24) during the fourth quarter Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) is tackled by Los Angeles Chargers safety Nasir Adderley (24) during the fourth quarter Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 4, 2020
Updated Oct. 4, 2020

TAMPA — The Bucs' comeback win over the Chargers on Sunday came at a price, as the team likely lost tight end O.J. Howard for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

Howard caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in the Bucs' 38-31 victory at Raymond James Stadium, but left in the fourth quarter with the injury.

It was unclear on what play Howard was injured, but he rode on a cart back to the Bucs locker room with less than eight minutes remaining in the game.

Afterward, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he believed Howard had ruptured his Achilles.

“He was having a great, great game, and I thought (Tom Brady) was going to throw it to him for the touchdown when he threw it to Ke’Shawn (Vaughn) but it looks like he has a ruptured Achilles and will probably be done for the season.”

Howard gradually was building chemistry with Brady. He caught a touchdown in the season opener in New Orleans and the two connected on a big 33-yard gain in last week’s win in Denver.

Brady found Howard deep on a 28-yard touchdown pass Sunday that capped the Bucs' first drive of the second half, bringing the Bucs within 24-21.

“It’s a tough injury,” Brady said. “I think everyone feels for O.J. and what his commitment’s been to the team through the offseason, training camp — he’s just been a great player for us. It sucks to lose him. It’s a tough injury.”

Howard’s first two NFL seasons also ended early due to injuries. In his rookie year in 2017, he was done after 14 games because of an ankle injury. And in 2018, Howard was on the verge of a breakout year when he sustained foot and ankle injuries after getting tackled from behind in a game against the Giants.

The Bucs already were without wide receiver Chris Godwin, who is expected to miss Thursday’s game in Chicago, as well as running back Leonard Fournette. LeSean McCoy (ankle) and Kenjon Barner (concussion) went down with injuries Sunday, leaving the Bucs with just two healthy running backs.

Evans grimaces and bears it

Bucs receiver Mike Evans played through an ankle injury that took him off the field briefly in the first quarter to finish with a seven-catch, 122-yard receiving day.

Evans tweaked his ankle on a 6-yard catch with just more than eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. He was tackled awkwardly, grabbed his right ankle and hobbled off the field. 

“You can’t say enough about (his performance),” Arians said. “He tweaked that ankle, taped it up, gutted it out and just had a huge day. We were coming into the game hoping to get (him) 15 (to) 18 targets. He missed a little bit of time in there or I think he would’ve gotten it. Huge day for Mike and this is one of the teams that they played some double coverage, but not much.”

Evans' season has been full of dealing with injuries, most notably a lingering hamstring injury. 

“I have to give so much credit to our training staff, the TB12 staff, our strength staff, everybody for just getting me ready,” Evans said. “I was pretty banged up all week. Really, the past few weeks. But, they did a great job getting me ready.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.