Nearly 6 months, 3 ligament tears later, Ryan Jensen returns to Bucs lineup

The 2021 Pro Bowl center starts and goes the distance in his season debut Monday night.
Published Jan. 17|Updated Jan. 17

TAMPA — Upon being introduced as an offensive starter on the video board during pregame introductions, Ryan Jensen drew a louder ovation than even his iconic quarterback.

It wouldn’t be the only instance in which Tom Brady was upstaged on this unsightly evening, just the most poignant and unlikely one.

Exactly 51 weeks after his last NFL game, and nearly six months after tearing three knee ligaments on the second day of training camp, Jensen made his season debut Monday night, starting and going the distance in his team’s 31-14 loss to the Cowboys. He had resumed practice with the team on Dec. 28 and had been activated from injured reserve earlier in the day Monday.

“We do it for each other,” Jensen said. “And after a year where I wasn’t able to run out of the tunnel and be with my guys, it sucked. So today was a pretty surreal moment and I’m proud of myself for everything with this year, and getting out there and giving it my all and trying to help this team win.”

Jensen was carted off the AdventHealth Training Center practice field after tackle Aaron Stinnie appeared to push rookie defensive lineman Logan Hall into Jensen’s left knee during a team drill. The Bucs never revealed the details of Jensen’s injury, but the 2021 Pro Bowler came clean after the wild-card loss.

Three torn knee ligaments (posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament), meniscus damage, a small fracture and “another little bone chip thing.” He never needed surgery and said he doesn’t anticipate needing it in the offseason.

“Some call it dumb,” Jensen said of his efforts to return at some point this season. “But I’m a football player, and football players play football.”

His most prominent moments Monday: an unneccessary-roughness penalty late in the third period, and a couple of shoves of Cowboys All-Pro Micah Parsons when the edge-rush extraordinaire appeared to try to infiltrate the Bucs’ huddle in the first half. For the night, Brady was sacked twice, but only because of his reliance on short, quick throws amid collapsing protection.

“Obviously my season didn’t start the way anybody wanted it to start,” Jensen said. “But I just put my head down and just worked my ass off and was able to get to this point. Over about the last month, it really started feeling pretty good, and I said, ‘Whatever, let’s give it a shot and let’s go try to win a game.’ Unfortunately we came up short today.”

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Brett Maher’s meltdown

Bucs cornerback Zyon McCollum (27) reacts as Cowboys kicker Brett Maher (19) misses his fourth consecutive extra point Monday night. Maher made his fifth and final try in Dallas' 31-14 triumph.
Bucs cornerback Zyon McCollum (27) reacts as Cowboys kicker Brett Maher (19) misses his fourth consecutive extra point Monday night. Maher made his fifth and final try in Dallas' 31-14 triumph. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Initial postgame sound bites from the Cowboys locker room indicated the team will stick with kicker Brett Maher despite a historically inept performance Monday night.

Maher missed his first four extra-point tries, becoming the first player to miss three or more PATs in a playoff contest. When he finally nailed his fifth, Cowboys and Bucs fans responded with a mock ovation.

“I just played like (garbage) a week ago. So I mean, that happens,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott told reporters. “Knowing what that guy has done with resiliency he’s shown throughout his career, personally, no doubt that he will come back next week and be perfect.”

Maher finished 50-of-53 on extra points in the regular season, but missed his lone attempt last week against Washington.

“We need to get him ready to go (for San Francisco),” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, whose team faces the 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif. “We need him. He’s been super clutch for us all year.”

Record night for Chris Godwin

Lost amid Monday night’s carnage was another historic performance by Chris Godwin.

Barely a year after surgery to repair two torn knee ligaments, the sixth-year veteran had 10 catches Monday, establishing a franchise playoff game record. He finished the season with 114, also a team single-season mark when counting playoffs. Keyshawn Johnson totaled 108 in the 2001 regular season and postseason.

By the numbers

1 Red-zone interceptions by Brady as a Buccaneer (according to ESPN). Brady’s high first-and-goal pass was picked by Jayron Kearse early in the second quarter

4 Scoreless Bucs first halves this season (including Monday night)

9 Bucs first halves without a touchdown this season

11 Consecutive completions by Prescott at one point in the first half, a Cowboys playoff record

52 Rushing yards (on 12 carries) by the Bucs on Monday night

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