The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' took a 19-6 lead into halftime against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but they also hit the intermission with a significant addition to their growing injury list. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the team's leading sack producer, suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter and did not return to the game.
The Buccaneers went on to dominate even more thoroughly in the second half of an eventual 32-6 win, which included a season-high seven sacks of quarterbacks Cam Newton and Sam Darnold. However, there's no doubt that the team's pass rush is far more threatening when Barrett is in the mix. That is not likely going to be the case over the final two weeks of the regular season after Head Coach Bruce Arians reported on Monday that the injury was a "sprained MCL/ACL."
"It's not severe but he's probably out for the rest of the regular season," said Arians. "Hopefully we'll have him back for the playoffs."
Barrett was dominant in last year's postseason run to the Super Bowl LV championship, particularly in the final game, in which he pressured Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes a stunning eight times on 41 pass rushes. The Buccaneers certainly hope that they'll have that same player available for another deep foray into the playoffs.
In fact, that is where the Buccaneers essentially stand on a number of injured starters who are targeting potential comebacks in the playoffs. That became easier for the team to manage after it clinched the NFC South title on Sunday. The fight for seeding among the top four spots remains but it's a long shot that the Buccaneers will be able to unseat Green Bay for the top spot (and the only first-round bye), and they don't control their own destiny for the second or third seeds, either. At some point, getting the roster as healthy as possible could take precedent over seeding concerns.
It's a moot point for inside linebacker Lavonte David (foot) and running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) anyway, as both were put on injured reserve last week, meaning they had to miss at least the final three games of the regular season before returning. And, of course, the Buccaneers know they won't be getting Chris Godwin back, as their leading receiver has a torn ACL. The question now becomes whether David and Fournette will be ready to return as soon as those three weeks are up, which would get them back in time for the first round of the playoffs.
"Yeah, I think that's still up in the air," said Arians. "We'll see how they heal, you know? Fingers crossed that they'll be back but we're not going to rush it, either."
Wide receiver Mike Evans also has a hamstring injury and he didn't play on Sunday in Charlotte, but he notably was not placed on injured reserve when David and Fournette were. The Buccaneers' offense still moved the ball well against Carolina's second-ranked defense and successfully incorporated such new contributors as Cyril Grayson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn, but would like that to translate into very useful depth in the postseason. Whether or not Evans returns to action in Week 17, the Buccaneers will have one more pass-catcher in the mix after activating Breshad Perriman from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.
"Hopefully we get Breshad back this week," said Arians shortly before Perriman's activation. "I'm not sure about Mike [Evans] yet; we'll wait and see on that one. Hopefully we'll get Mike back and BP back and see how the receiver corps builds back up. Hopefully, knock on wood, we don't lose anybody else."
The Buccaneers accomplished their first goal of winning the division in 2021, thus getting to at least start their playoff journey with a home game. But Arians said on Sunday that the Buccaneers want to hang three banners this season. How successfully they chase the subsequent goals of winning the NFC and then earning a second straight Lombardi Trophy – and two more banners – may depend on quickly their injured players can get back on the field.