Bruce Arians said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' special teams "won the ballgame" on Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys, and return man Jaydon Mickens was a big contributor in that phase of the game. Apparently, the Buccaners would like to have that edge the next time they play, too.
On Saturday, the team signed Mickens back to the active roster from the practice squad, where he had landed after being released in the roster cutdown to the regular-season limit of 53 players. Mickens played in the season opener against the Cowboys after being one of two players the team elevated from the practice squad for that game.
Tampa Bay had an open spot on the 53-man roster after waiving first-year safety Chris Cooper on Friday.
Mickens averaged 10.5 yards on two punt returns and 30.7 yards on three kickoff returns on Thursday night. His 41-yard kickoff return late in the first half set up a two-play touchdown drive that gave the Bucs a 21-16 lead at halftime. Mickens also had most of a 24-yard punt return into Dallas territory erased by penalty in the second quarter.
The Buccaneers kept rookie fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden as their sixth receiver in the initial cut to 53, which seemed to signal that he would be taking over the punt and kickoff return jobs. That may still happen, but at the moment Arians prefers a veteran option. The Bucs are now carrying seven receivers on the active roster.
"Jaelon's done a heck of a job but I'm not going to let him fail as a rookie," said Arians on Friday. "He's got such a great, great future. We wanted as much veteran presence on that field as we possibly could, knowing the situation and the intensity of the game. Mick's been there and done it. It's not a thing against Jaelon, it's just more a guy that's been there and done it."
Indeed, Mickens was the Bucs' primary return man for the majority of the 2020 season. He averaged 6.2 yards on 16 punt returns and 24.3 yards on 14 kickoff returns. He also returned five punts at a 7.8-yard clip and 10 kickoffs at 22.2 yards per try in the postseason, including a key 43-yard kickoff return in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.
The Buccaneers next play the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, September 19.