The Bucs got a taste of what Charlie Garner could do in a strong performance against Seattle, but will have to do without the back the rest of the way
For the second straight year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' best-laid plans are running aground against that great NFL equalizer, injuries.
On Monday at his day-after-the-game press conference, Head Coach Jon Gruden officially announced what he had feared on Sunday night: running back Charlie Garner will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his right knee against the Oakland Raiders.
In addition, tight end Rickey Dudley broke his right thumb during Sunday's game and will miss a significant if as yet undetermined period of time. This marks the second straight season marred by injury for Dudley, who missed the first nine games last year due to a severe ankle sprain suffered in the preseason finale.
It was a rough return to Oakland for a pair of former Raiders. Gruden said both men would likely undergo surgery on Monday.
This year, which is shaping up much like last year in terms of training-room capacity, Garner is the third of the Bucs' major offseason acquisitions to go down with an injury. Guard Matt O'Dwyer, a projected starter on the left side of the line, sustained a torn pectoral muscle during a pre-camp weights workout and is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Wide receiver Joey Galloway, a starter and the offense's projected deep threat, suffered a groin injury in the season opener and is out for what could be another six weeks.
Dudley is also now out, and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius is still recovering from back surgery. The Bucs' offense is struggling, and one of the major reasons is a lack of continuity caused by turnover at the skill positions, much of that caused by the two-year run of injuries.
"It started with Joey Galloway," said quarterback Brad Johnson. "Jurevicius hasn't been available. Dudley going down…Charlie's been a big part of it. You can't make any excuses. We'll have to make some adjustments on the run. It's unfortunate for those guys and this team is just going to have to battle through it."
The Bucs will get one offensive performer back for next week's game, and just in time. Running back Michael Pittman's three-game suspension is over, and he'll rejoin the team in time to add some punch to the running attack. Like Garner, Pittman is also a gifted receiver out of the backfield.
"Michael Pittman returns for the game; obviously, he'll start at the tailback position and we're anxious to get him going again," said Gruden. "We had obviously looked forward to working him and Charlie in the same backfield together, but unfortunately that won't be the case this year. But Pittman's a guy who we think is a fine football player and we'll have to lean on him at this time."
Alstott, fullback Mike Alstott, one of the 2003 injury-bug victims, demonstrated on Sunday night that he can still be a valuable producer in the offense.
"He will continue to play fullback and halfback in some situations," said Gruden. "We're going to try to get just about everybody we have left involved in the offense."
Despite a move across the country, Garner has run into injury problems for a second straight year. Prior to 2003, Garner averaged over 1,700 combined rushing and receiving yards per season from 1999-2002. Last year, a left knee injury slowed him in his final campaign with the Raiders, though he still ran for 553 yards, picked up 4.6 yards per carry and caught 48 passes for 386 yards. Given his productivity despite that nagging injury, and successful offseason surgery to correct the problem, the Bucs expected to get the Garner of 1999-2002. Obviously, for both the player and the team, this year's injury is even more disappointing than last year's.
Nevertheless, Gruden believes the Bucs can still develop into a good football team this season. The injuries and the three consecutive losses to start the season have taken the expected emotional toll on the coaches and players, but they haven't dampened the team's drive to succeed.
"We're all dejected, we're all down," said Gruden. "Obviously, we've had some tragic injuries and some things happen.
"[But] there are a lot of games left. I think we've got a chance to be a heck of a football team if we can put it together. We've got to have some guys step up, clearly. Guys like Bill Schroeder and Charles Lee. We've got to get Jurevicius and Galloway back at some point. We've got to find a way to win one game. If we can get some momentum going, we've seen crazier things happen."