CHICAGO — Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea was carted off the field with an apparent right ankle injury in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' 20-19 loss to the Bears on Thursday night.
The severity of Vea’s injury was unknown — Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he had no update — but Vea may be out for the forseeable future.
“It’s a big loss,” Arians said. “You don’t have another Vita, that’s for sure. But other guys who step in and step up and take it.”
Vea was playing tremendously down the stretch Thursday night and had just shed a block to stop Bears running back David Montgomery for a 1-yard loss when his right foot bent awkwardly under teammate Devin White, who also was in on the tackle.
White kneeled beside Vea as he was attended to by team athletic trainers.
Earlier in the game, Vea had the Bucs' first sack of the night and logged a quarterback hit to go along with the tackle for loss. He had three total tackles.
Vea has been the anchor to the Bucs' stout run defense, which ranked first in the NFL last season and currently is second, allowing just 64.3 yards a game.
If Vea misses extended time, it likely will mean more snaps for defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who began to fill the nose tackle spot when Vea was not in games.
The Bucs already have lost tight end O.J. Howard to a season-ending Achilles injury.
Arians on officiating
The Bucs were hurt by several questionable calls late in the game, including a late-hit penalty on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
The Bears had third and 19 at their own 16-yard line when Nick Foles threw an incompletion to Ted Ginn Jr. Barrett was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Bears an automatic first down.
Barrett also was flagged for a neutral-zone infraction when the Bears had a third and 12 at their own 39. On that play, replays show that Bears right guard Germain Ifedi jumped before Barrett went offsides.
That gave the Bears third and 7, and they converted on a 12-yard pass to Montgomery. Foles started getting into a groove from there. Five plays later, the Bears scored on Montgomery’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Asked about the officiating, Arians said a lot with few words: “no comment.”
Johnson fills in
Rookie fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson had to wait until his third NFL game to see his first catch, but with receivers Chris Godwin and Justin Watson out, Johnson played a big role early.
Johnson led the Bucs with 61 receiving yards on four catches, most of that coming in the first half. His 35-yard gain in the first quarter was the Bucs' longest passing gain of the game.
“I knew my opportunity was coming,” Johnson said. “This week in practice, my coaches, they just definitely have been telling me to stay ready, stay ready and I was ready. I’ve got a lot to work on still, but I’m definitely going in the right direction. "
Succop provides offense
Kicker Ryan Succop provided most of the offense, going 4-for-4 on field goals.
When the Bucs signed Succop during training camp to compete with Matt Gay, Arians said he was looking for a kicker who would make the kicks from inside 39 yards. At Chicago, his conversions came from 25, 35, 39 and 46 yards.
Thursday marked Succop’s first four field-goal game since Oct. 7, 2018, when he was perfect for the Titans against Buffalo.
The Bucs were 8-for-10 in the red zone entering Thursday’s game, but just 1-for-3 against the Bears.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.