Bucs uncertain whether Sean Murphy-Bunting is lost for season

Notes | The cornerback is on injured reserve with a dislocated right elbow sustained in Thursday’s 31-29 win over Dallas.
Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is attended after he was injured on a play during the first quarter of Thursday's opener.
Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is attended after he was injured on a play during the first quarter of Thursday's opener. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sept. 14, 2021|Updated Sept. 14, 2021

TAMPA — Sean Murphy-Bunting’s dislocated right elbow landed him on injured reserve for now, but it also could end his season.

Coach Bruce Arians said the Bucs are in the process of determining how long Murphy-Bunting will be out.

“Right now, it could be anywhere from four (weeks) until the end of the season,” Arians said Tuesday. “We’re still looking at some MRI stuff and second opinion about what has to be done, if anything. We’ll probably know more in two days whether it’s a season-ending (injury).”

Murphy-Bunting was injured during the first quarter of the Bucs’ 31-29 win over the Cowboys on Thursday. The Bucs allowed Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to pass for 403 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

The Cowboys picked on his replacement, Jamel Dean, who was beaten for a touchdown and committed two penalties.

“He had some other things going on that affected him, I think,” Arians said of Dean. “But I’ve got all the confidence in world that it’s nothing he can’t get past.”

Arians wouldn’t elaborate on what Dean may have been dealing with.

The Bucs also were playing without starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who missed the season opener with a hamstring injury that sidelined him during the preseason. Whitehead is expected to return to practice Wednesday and could play Sunday against the Falcons.

“Jordan looks fine,” Arians said. “We’ll see him full speed (Wednesday), but he looked fine.”

If Whitehead returns, it will give the Bucs some flexibility in their secondary. While Dean likely will start, safeties Mike Edwards, Antonio Winfield Jr. and Ross Cockrell can all play the slot defensive back position.

But the Bucs are going to miss Murphy-Bunting, who was the star of last postseason with three interceptions in consecutive playoff games.

“It’s always huge when you lose your starting corner,” Arians said. “Those guys are hard to find in the first place, especially of his caliber and flexibility. But we’ve got very capable (players).”

All clear on COVID tests

Arians said Monday his completely vaccinated team made it through its weekly round of COVID-19 testing with no positive results. While reassuring in any week, the results came after a de facto bye weekend, reflecting an off-field discipline that helped keep the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list sparse throughout 2020.

By contrast, at least eight members of the Saints organization reportedly have tested positive, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported. The entire team is under enhanced mitigation protocols (daily testing, mandatory masks, etc.) regardless of vaccination status.

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Penalties in profusion

An issue the 2020 Bucs successfully buried made a haunting return to the surface in Thursday’s 2021 opener against Dallas.

Tampa Bay was penalized 11 times for 106 yards in the 31-29 win, its most egregious effort — in terms of infractions — since drawing 11 flags for 109 yards in a 20-19 loss in Chicago last Oct. 8. From there, the Bucs averaged only 3.9 penalties for 29.2 yards in their last 15 contests of 2020.

“It was a definite problem,” Arians said Monday.

“We didn’t do what we wanted to do from a penalty or a turnover standpoint, so something for us to work on,” added offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who also watched his unit commit four turnovers. “The good thing that I do like though, to be in those type of situations and find ways to win football games, that’s what good football teams do.”

RoJo to return

Three days after saying Ronald Jones “struggled mentally” to get over his second-quarter fumble against the Cowboys, Arians said the fourth-year tailback will start Sunday against the Falcons.

Jones’ fumble inside his own 25-yard line set up Dallas’ second touchdown. He never touched the ball again.

“I’m not worried about Ro at all,” Leftwich said. “We’ll continue getting Ro the ball and letting Ro be Ro. Ro’s real special running the ball and unique, and we understand that; we understand the talent that he has. It’s never perfect in football, the game doesn’t go that way. Football doesn’t allow you to be perfect.”

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