The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got some very bad news on Monday afternoon. It may be a few days before they know if that news is going to get any worse.
The first blow was the loss of the team's leading receiver, Chris Godwin, who suffered a knee injury early in the second quarter on a low tackle by defensive back P.J. Williams. Outside reports pegged the injury as an MCL sprain on Monday morning but Head Coach Bruce Arians delivered a tougher diagnosis in the afternoon.
"No, Chris has an ACL, and he's done," said Arians. "He'll be done for the season. The rest of the guys are still getting MRI's and we'll wait and see."
Godwin had six catches for 49 yards in his abbreviated playing time on Sunday, running his season totals to 98 receptions for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns. At the time of his injury, Godwin ranked third in the NFL in receptions and fifth in receiving yards, and he seemed very likely to break the Buccaneers' single-season record of 106 receptions.
Arians stressed on Monday that Williams' hit was well within the rules but expressed hope that the league would look at similar tackles during the offseason when considering rule changes. Godwin had just made the catch and was turning upfield when Williams hit him in the leg he had planted in the ground.
"Yeah, you feel bad for him because he was having such a great year," said Arians. "And then the type of it hit was – totally legal, but I think that's one of the things we have to look at in the offseason. We're so concerned about hitting people in the head that we're getting a lot of knee injuries now because of that type of tackle. But it is legal and it wasn't a bad play at all, but yeah, you just feel bad for Chris."
The Buccaneers reported the injuries to Godwin and fellow starting wideout Mike Evans at the same time on Sunday night, as Evans was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Later, in the third quarter, running back Leonard Fournette was also knocked out by a hamstring ailment. Other Buccaneers who left the game with injuries included linebacker Lavonte David (foot) and special teams standout Patrick O'Connor (knee). After the game, Arians said it was the rash of injuries that concerned him more than the loss itself.
The Buccaneers are still determining how many players will be missing from the lineup for the next three weeks as the team tries to nail down a division title and build momentum for a potential playoff run. Other than the unwelcome Godwin news, Arians hadn't collected any definitive answers yet.
"No, everybody's still getting MRIs," said the coach. "Some have to wait until tomorrow because of swelling."
Evans leads the team with 11 touchdowns and was closing in on his eighth straight 1,000-yard season with 899 yards on 64 catches. Fournette is the team's leading rusher with 812 yards and is also leading all NFL running backs with 69 catches. His 1,266 yards from scrimmage lead the team and he is second to Evans with 10 touchdowns. David had 11 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble on Sunday night before his injury and is just three stops shy of his ninth 100-tackle season.
While Arians is awaiting word on those players and potentially several others, he does seem prepared to be without Fournette for some time. Fournette memorably grabbed the lead role in the Bucs' backfield late last season after Ronald Jones ran into a couple of injury problems and then earned the nickname 'Playoff Lenny' for his explosive performances in the postseason. Fournette kept that momentum going into 2021 but now last year's December situation seems to be playing out in reverse.
"It's his time now to do what happened for Leonard last year when [Jones] got hurt," said Arians of the opportunity in front of Jones, who gained 63 yards on just eight carries on Sunday. "So, yeah, I've got all the confidence in the world – he ran great, caught the ball good and I think going forward it's his job now."