CLEVELAND — When trainers helped right tackle Tristan Wirfs onto a cart in overtime, after he sustained a left leg injury so gruesome that Fox wouldn’t show the replay, one thought kept recurring for Mike Evans.
“That’s the toughest part, losing Tristan,” the receiver said after Sunday’s 23-17 loss in overtime. “We shouldn’t have been in that situation. I thought that immediately when he went down. I wish I could’ve played better to help prevent that.”
The defeat was hard to swallow but the thought of having to possibly play the rest of the season without Wirfs, their All-Pro tackle, was even more deflating.
“It’s awful,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s awful for us. It’s awful for him. He is a great player for us. The other guys in will have to do a good job, but it’s hard to replace him.”
After the game, there was potentially some good news. Wirfs’ initial X-rays came back negative.
Wirfs came out of the trainers room after the game walking under his own power, although visibly limping. He wore no cast or knee brace and was able to shower and dress after the game with no assistance.
He will have further tests, including an MRI, Monday to determine if there is any significant structural damage.
Considering that the Bucs lost center Ryan Jensen to a significant knee injury the second day of training camp, Ali Marpet retired and rookie Luke Goedeke struggled in the first seven games, losing Wirfs is about the last thing the team needs.
“It’s real devastating” guard Nick Leverett said. “It would be devastating to see anyone carted off the field but that’s our brother. ... We’ve got a special bond. He’s a warrior, so to see him get carried off, it hurt a lot. I went back and checked on him. I was really praying for him on the field. I’m wishing it ain’t nothing serious and I’m wishing a speedy recovery for my boy.”
The injury occurred while Wirfs was engaged blocking Browns outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah blitzed and went airborne as he was being blocked by running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who threw him down into Wirfs’ left leg.
“It’s tough. We know it’s tough,” coach Todd Bowles said. “When you lose a player like that, you say it’s part of the game. But a lot of these guys are so close that it hurts a lot. The next man has to step up and hopefully it’s not as bad as it looked, he gets a speedy recovery and we go from there. But (offensive tackle Josh) Wells and all are going to have to step in and we’re going to have to keep going.”
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Wirfs’ injury was the the lowlight of a brutal performance by the offensive line, particularly left tackle Donovan Smith.
Overmatched against outside linebacker Myles Garrett, who had 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits, Smith also committed three of the Bucs’ nine penalties. He had a holding penalty and a false start.
But the worst miscue was when he was flagged for hands to the face on Garrett in overtime, erasing a 10-yard shovel pass from Brady to rookie running back Rachaad White. Instead of a first down at the Browns’ 37, the Bucs faced third and 14 from their own 43 when Brady threw incomplete, forcing a punt.
“As far as Tristan, losing anybody, we got a lot of injuries from this game and I hope none of them are severe because we’re going to need them going forward to do what we need to do as a unit‚” linebacker Devin White said.
“I saw (Wirfs) in the shower. He’s a warrior. He’s going to be all right. ... He’s still got a smile on his face.”
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