TAMPA — The Bucs’ hopeful run to a second straight Super Bowl title now has a discernable limp.
Chris Godwin, the team’s leading receiver and franchise player, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL sustained in Sunday night’s 9-0 loss to the Saints. Coach Bruce Arians announced the news Monday afternoon.
The Bucs initially thought that Godwin had only an MCL sprain and were optimistic that their receptions leader (98 catches for 1,103 yards and five touchdowns) would return for the playoffs. But further examination of his knee revealed more damage.
Godwin, who becomes a free agent in March, needed eight catches to tie Keyshawn Johnson’s single-season club record of 106 set in 2001.
Godwin was injured with 12:51 remaining in the first half when he caught a pass over the middle and was struck in the right knee by Saints defensive back P.J. Williams.
Unfortunately, Godwin isn’t the only player that the Bucs could be without. Receiver Mike Evans and running back Leonard Fournette left Sunday’s game with hamstring injuries. Linebacker Lavonte David sustained a foot injury late in the game. Arians had no update Monday.
“The rest of the guys are still getting MRIs, so we’ll see,” he said.
Because NFL rules prevent players from striking a defenseless player in the head or shoulders area, Williams went low and submarined Godwin on his right knee.
Godwin walked off the field under his own power and trainers taped up the knee, allowing Godwin to try to test it by jogging on the sideline before ruling him out.
Arians said while it was a legal hit by Williams, he wishes the league would change the rules.
“You feel bad for him because he was having such a great year and the type of hit it was,” Arians said. “Totally legal, but I think that’s one of the things we have to look at in the offseason. We’re so concerned about hitting people in the head, we’re getting a lot of knee injuries now because of that type of tackle. But it is legal and wasn’t a bad play at all. You just feel bad for Chris.”
Fortunately for the Bucs on offense, receiver Antonio Brown is eligible to be reinstated from the suspended list after missing three games for misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status.
A year ago, injuries to both Evans and Godwin are what prompted the Bucs to sign Brown following an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s player conduct policy after he was charged with assaulting a moving van driver.
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Brown and safety Mike Edwards rejoined the team Monday after serving their three-game suspension for using fake vaccination cards.
“It’s in the best interest of our football team,” Arians said of the return of Brown and Edwards. “Both of those guys have served their time and we’ll welcome them back.”
Receiver Breshad Perriman, the hero in the Bucs’ overtime win over the Bills on Dec. 12, could return from the reserve/COVID-19 list in time for this Sunday’s game at Carolina.
Arians said he believes the Bucs are deep enough at receiver and probably won’t have to go outside the organization for an additional player at the position. Currently, Cyril Grayson is the only receiver on the practice squad.
How Godwin’s ACL injury will impact his ability to land a long-term contract in 2022 is unknown. A third-round pick by the Bucs in 2017 out of Penn State, Godwin has emerged as Tom Brady’s favorite target.
In the past two and a half games, he produced 31 receptions for 297 yards. He needed 200 yards receiving in the final three games to match his career high.
It is unknown how long Fournette will be out but Arians said he has confidence in Ronald Jones, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last year. Jones had eight carries for 63 yards against the Saints.
“When your opportunities come, you’ve got to be ready,” Arians said. “I thought (Jones) ran really well and caught the ball good.”
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