TAMPA — Bruce Arians didn’t want to create any distractions heading into Sunday night’s game against the Saints, but the worst-kept secret in the Bucs organization was out early in the day.
Receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards will return to the team when their three-game suspension for misrepresenting their vaccination status ends Monday, Arians confirmed following his team’s 9-0 loss to the Saints.
“It’s in the best interests of our football team,” Arians said. “Both those guys have served their time and we welcome them back.”
The pair’s return couldn’t be more timely. The Bucs’ top receivers, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, exited in the first half Sunday with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Brown, 33, will be thrust back into action as a primary Tom Brady target as a result. The Bucs are 5-0 with him in the lineup, and he is expected to be fully recovered from the ankle/heel injury that sidelined him after the Oct. 14 game at Philadelphia.
Edwards, a ball-hawking safety who can also play in the slot as a cornerback, helps replenish a secondary that was missing second-year safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (foot), third-year cornerback Jamel Dean and former all-pro corner (Richard Sherman (Achilles) on Sunday. Edwards has three interceptions, including two in a win over Atlanta on Sept. 19.
“For the safety room, we can’t wait to get Mike back,” safety Jordan Whitehead said.
“Every time he’s out there he makes plays, so that’s going to be big, especially with some injuries right now. Antonio Brown’s going to be key, too. What he brings, the best receiver in the league for a long time, we’re definitely going to need him. So we’re welcoming those guys back.”
The Bucs checked with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department to make sure neither Brown or Edwards was facing possible charges for using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card, which is a felony.
Milestone, mediocrity for Gronk
With his lone reception in the first half, a 19-yarder from Brady, veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski became only the fifth NFL tight end to reach 9,000 career regular-season yards.
His highlights pretty much ended there. Targeted 11 times, Gronkowski managed only two catches for 29 yards, dropping at least two passes and failing to track a high Brady spiral inside the red zone.
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Gronkowski now is at 9,011 career regular-season yards. The other members of the quintet: Tony Gonzalez (15,127), Jason Witten (13,046), Antonio Gates (11,841) and Shannon Sharpe (9,961).
The second-half hamstring injury to every-down tailback Leonard Fournette resulted in backup Ronald Jones logging his most extensive action in nearly two months.
Jones tied his season high with 63 rushing yards on eight attempts, and had his first two-reception game (for 8 yards) of the year. Even second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (three carries, 19 yards) got his first two targets of the year (both incompletions).
By the numbers, bleak edition
3 Times in Brady’s career he has been shut out. The last time before Sunday was Dec. 10, 2006, at Miami in a 21-0 loss.
0 Times Brady has been beaten by a team that didn’t score a touchdown ... until Sunday.
4 Sacks sustained by Brady, his first four-sack game as a Buccaneer. All occurred on third down.
19 Years since Brady has been sacked four times on third down in a game (according to ESPN).
6 Third downs converted by the Bucs.
8 Punts attempted by the Bucs.
23 Length of Brady’s longest completion (to Chris Godwin) on Sunday night.
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