LB Derrick Brooks was injured on the last play of Sunday's game but should be cleared to play in Tennessee
A little over a week ago in Minnesota, RB Warrick Dunn scored what might have been the winning touchdown on a tough, six-yard run up the middle, just a few plays after putting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in position to score with a 20-yard burst.
The team's delight over that play dimmed rapidly, however, not only because the opposing Minnesota Vikings then rallied for their own go-ahead touchdown, but because Dunn suffered a foot sprain on the 20-yard run that was expected to keep him out two to four weeks.
Against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Buccaneers once again came up with a big play at the end of the game only to see one of their Pro Bowl performers injured in the action. This time, however, there is no reason to curb the team's enthusiasm, as the Bucs held on for victory and the injury is, it was reported on Monday, less severe than Dunn's sprain.
LB Derrick Brooks was one of about four defenders that converged on WR Donald Driver in the back of the end zone on the game's final play, a frightening pass by QB Brett Favre that would have won the game for the Packers if Driver had been allowed to catch it. John Lynch came from the other side of the end zone to bat the ball away at the last second, sending his teammates into a wild celebration.
Brooks, however, did not join in, as he had suffered a left foot sprain on the play. In fact, it is a sprain similar to the one suffered by Dunn a week before. Fortunately, Head Coach Tony Dungy reported on Monday that Brooks is likely to return quicker than Dunn, or rookie CB Dwight Smith, who missed almost four weeks with the same injury.
"It's similar to Warrick's and Dwight Smith's but not quite as serious," said Dungy. "We're hoping he'll be able to practice by Thursday or Friday."
Brooks' misfortune continued a disconcerting trend in Sunday's game, as Buc trainers had to tend to a string of injured players. In addition to Brooks, Tampa Bay was tracking injuries to guard Cosey Coleman (knee contusion), WR Keyshawn Johnson (shoulder stinger) and Lynch (hip strain).
In fact, the Bucs were fortunate that Lynch was available to make that critical bat-down on the final play, as their Pro Bowl safety had sat out several chunks of game time at various part of the afternoon. He injured his hip in the first quarter, returned a few series later, than had to leave the game again for parts of the second and third quarters. Lynch was conspicuously absent on the Packers' one touchdown play, a 67-yard pass to WR Bill Schroeder in what would have been the veteran's portion of the field had he been in the game.
But Lynch was back for the game's most critical moment, and it also appears he will be back for next Sunday's game in Tennessee.
"Lynch had a strange injury," said Dungy. "It's kind of a hip strain, not a hip flexor (strain) but just a strained muscle, it sounds like. He's actually feeling a lot better than we thought he might be and he should be ready to go again by mid-week."
That's good news for the Bucs, who were forced to play without their heavy hitter in the secondary the last time they played Tennessee, in 1998. The Titans capitalized on Lynch's absence on that afternoon by pounding RB Eddie George up the middle 27 times for 134 yards. As a whole, Tennessee ran for 236 yards while Lynch watched with a neck injury, and ran away with a 31-22 victory.
That is the only game that Lynch has missed over the last six seasons, despite fairly regular bouts with injuries, a by-product of his ultra-physical style. Last season, Lynch dislocated a shoulder against Chicago in late November and shockingly played in the Bucs' next game against Buffalo, another team with a power running attack. Tampa Bay won, 31-17.
Lynch wasn't about to let another Tennessee game develop on Sunday, so he fought against the early decision to hold him out for the entire game.
"(Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) was not going to let him go back in the game, but he kept running and stayed loose on the sideline and felt like he could play," said Dungy. "Actually, he went back in and did a good job down the stretch. It was that type of day, though, where you needed everybody, and we had a lot of guys who sucked it up and played well down the stretch."
Johnson sustained his shoulder injury at the end of a 22-yard reception that jumpstarted the Bucs' game-winning, 95-yard touchdown drive. As he tried to leave the field to get the injury attended to, Johnson fell to the turf about 10 yards from the sideline, causing some concern. However, he was able to go back in two plays later and eventually delivered two important blocks on Mike Alstott's 39-yard touchdown run.
Coleman did not go back into the game after leaving in the second quarter with a contusion on his right knee. Like the other three, Coleman is considered a good bet to play in Tennessee.
You can even add Dunn to that list, tentatively. He is likely to be upgraded from doubtful to questionable on the team's injury report this week, an indication that he has about a 50 percent chance of playing. Dungy seems to believe the odds are lower, but Dunn is pushing for an early return.
"He's talking about it," said Dungy. "I still think it's more likely next week, but he wants to try to go and is looking forward to getting back. We'll probably see on Wednesday in the walk-through what he can do. We're not going to rush him back if he's not ready, but he's pretty optimistic."
As are the Buccaneers, given what could have been a string of difficult losses to the lineup.
"We had to play a full game, play a lot of plays on both sides of the ball," said Dungy. "We have a lot of guys injured – fortunately no one who looks like they'll miss next week. But we'll have some guys that will have a tough time practicing early in the week, and that will give some of our other guys a chance to get going.
"Fortunately, it looks like everybody should be able to go by the end of the week."