TAMPA — The Bucs might be forced to play the final month of the season without rookie MLB Kwon Alexander.
The team received official notice Wednesday from the NFL that Alexander has been suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Alexander has five business days, including Thanksgiving, to notify the league of his plans to appeal. Therefore, he's expected to play in Sunday's game at Indianapolis. The appeal process could take an additional week or two, meaning Alexander might miss the final four games of the regular season.
"All we know right now is yes, the letter came (Wednesday)," coach Lovie Smith said. "There's an appeal process and all that that he could possibly go through."
Smith said the impending suspension, which Alexander has known about for weeks, has not affected his play. "His focus has been great," Smith said. "All the things Kwon Alexander has gone through to continue to play outstanding football … of course we're concerned and this is serious, but there's a time for that when you're not on the football field. But his focus, when it needs to be on football, has been that way."
A fourth-round pick out of LSU, Alexander is second on the Bucs (5-5) with 73 tackles and also has two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Alexander said he consumed an "energy drink" and was unaware it contained substances banned by the league.
"It was a surprise to me — I didn't know what I took or anything," Alexander said after Sunday's 45-17 victory at Philadelphia. "It was an energy drink. I didn't know. I always took it, like in high school and everything. I've never been in any trouble or anything."
Alexander won the starting job at middle linebacker in training camp over Cowboys free agent Bruce Carter. Tampa Bay also could move strongside linebacker Danny Lansanah to Alexander's spot.
"You have to assume any of our players can go down with an injury," Smith said. "You have to have that plan in place always, whether it's through this or an injury, as I've said. There's a plan in place. It is Plan B. It's not the ideal one. The ideal plan for us is for Kwon to be out there.
"We'll see how that all plays out, but if he can't, we have a Plan B."
FLYING SOLO: Jameis Winston's five touchdown passes in the victory over the Eagles was historic on its own merit. He tied an NFL record for the most touchdowns in a game by a rookie held by the Lions' Matthew Stafford.
But what made it even more impressive was the Bucs' headsets went out for much of the first two series and Winston navigated a couple of those drives without direct communication from offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
"When the coach-to-quarterback system works, it's the greatest invention in the world," Koetter said. "When it doesn't work, it's heart attack time.
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"We have a wrist band we can use. But that play clock is running fast and it's just so much better when it works the way it's supposed to."
The Bucs eventually got the problem fixed, but Winston was so well versed in the opening 15 plays or so that he handled the offense without a hitch. He checked to a pass play on the first possession and connected with TE Cameron Brate for 16 yards. On the second possession, he led a 75-yard touchdown drive in five plays, capped by a 4-yard pass to Mike Evans.
"Leave it to the quarterback to pick the pass over the run play. It worked out good," Koetter said.
INJURIES: C/G Evan Smith (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. DE Josh Shirley (calf) had full participation. G Ali Marpet (ankle) and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) were limited. S Keith Tandy (concussion) and DE George Johnson (calf) did not participate.