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Seventeenth game a tricky proposition for playoff-bound Bucs

The reigning Super Bowl champs must grimace through an extra regular-season game.
 
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski, hauling in a pass in Sunday's 28-24 win against the Jets, said he never was a fan of a 17th regular-season game. "But it is what it is," he added.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski, hauling in a pass in Sunday's 28-24 win against the Jets, said he never was a fan of a 17th regular-season game. "But it is what it is," he added. [ ADAM HUNGER | AP ]
Published Jan. 5, 2022|Updated Jan. 7, 2022

TAMPA — Three days after his 35th birthday, Ndamukong Suh embarks on terrain not yet charted in his dozen NFL seasons.

A 17th regular-season game, Sunday at home against Carolina.

“Year 12, Game 17 coming up, it feels good, honestly,” the Bucs’ veteran defensive tackle and three-time All-Pro said. “I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve got a great (physical therapy and performance) team that I work with ... so we’ve put a great plan together, and it’s been executed and I’m ready to go. So we’ll go from there.”

Of course, not every Buc is feeling as spry as Suh these days. The sprawling injury report reads like a list of Pro Bowl nominees (Leonard Fournette, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, Ryan Jensen, Richard Sherman, etc.), and onetime practice-squad regulars are being thrust into prominent roles.

If the old NFL calendar remained intact, the first round of the playoffs would be looming, and the Bucs at least would have postseason adrenaline to buoy them. But the NFL owners (with agreement from the NFL Players Association) signed off on a 17th regular-season game in March.

“I (would have preferred) we just stay at 16 games, that would have been really smart,” said 44-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who nonetheless said he feels “good” physically at this juncture. “But as we know, a lot of these decisions aren’t up to me personally.”

One of his favorite all-time targets wasn’t keen on the extra game either.

“I was never really a big fan of the 17-game season,” 32-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “But it is what it is. ... Football’s always a long season, but it is Week 17 — Week 18 technically now — (and) you’ve just got to go out there and play.”

As a result, coach Bruce Arians has the dicey task of employing whatever means necessary to win Sunday in a quest for the NFC’s No. 2 postseason seed (and the two home playoff games that accompany it), while trying to avoid more significant injuries.

Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices were walk-throughs as Arians said this time of the year is more about mental than physical practice reps. Ideally, he’d like to build a lead sizable enough Sunday to pull some starters — if he can.

“I would hope that would happen. Yeah, it happened three times this year, but the thing is, who do you take out?” Arians said Wednesday.

“Because you can’t take them all out. You only dress 47 (players). You can’t have all of your second string go in because there’s not enough of them. It’s a time where, ’This guy is a little nicked up and get him out of there.’ I hope that would happen, but I don’t anticipate it.”

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Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

Related: Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Le'Veon Bell next men up in Bucs backfield Sunday

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