When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to open their 2022 season against the Dallas Cowboys, it will be eight months, three weeks and two days since Chris Godwin tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. At the time of the injury, that would have seemed like an aggressive timetable for his return to game action, but with the opener in Dallas now just three days away it remains a possibility.
On Thursday, Godwin was asked where he stood in regards to his return, both mentally and physically. As he had noted on a podcast a few days earlier, he is still not sure what the answer is going to be on Sunday.
"Honestly, I think it's a very complicated process," he said. "Obviously, any time you come off a major injury like this you never really know how you're going to feel. I've been doing really well. You guys have seen me out there practicing; I've been doing a lot of stuff. Each day is very different from the day before. So I think ultimately what it comes down to is just, one, how I'm feeling and then, two, the discussion that I have with Coach [Todd] Bowles and the training staff. I think whenever the time comes for the game, I think everybody will know, but until then even I'm not sure."
Godwin agreed with the notion that his availability for Sunday's opener would be a "game-time decision" but that when he was cleared to play he will not be held back by any fear of taking hard hits.
"No, I don't think so," he said. "I think whenever I go out there it's because I feel really confident in where I'm at, and in my ability to not only play but to be able to take whatever hits I need to take. Football's a violent game and you can't really protect yourself from everything. Once I have the confidence in myself, once it's the right time for me to go out there, just go out there and play."
Godwin suffered his injury when he was tackled through the legs by Saints safety P.J. Williams. Interestingly, he believes the fact that he was hurt by a hard hit rather than in non-contact fashion gives him less to worry about when he gets back on the field.
"You never really know until you get out there," he said. "Like I said, mine was a contact injury, so I don't really have any concerns about running and cutting, like some guys might whenever they have a non-contact injury. I would imagine once I get that first hit, it's just back to ball."
Even after missing the last three games of the regular season in 2021, Godwin still led the team with 98 catches for 1,103 yards, scoring five touchdowns in the process. He ranked third in the NFL with 7.0 receptions per game, falling just shy of the Bucs' single-season record in that category. He has been the team's most dangerous receiver out of the slot and it's best pass-catcher at picking up yards after the catch. Obviously, the Buccaneers want him in mix, but they have built so much receiver depth with the additions of Russell Gage and Julio Jones that they can still field a high-powered offense if he misses any time. That will surely help Godwin and the training staff when it comes down to choosing the right return date for him.
"A hundred percent," said Godwin. "We have a loaded room full of receivers that can go make plays at every level of the field. We've got talented guys in the running back room and the tight end room. So we're not lacking in any way in the skill-position department. So I think that really helps me in my process, allows me to feel comfortable in waiting until I feel really comfortable to go out there and play."
Godwin says he is very pleased with the process that has gotten him from last December 19 to this point and that he knew he was making very good progress when he started training camp without having to go on the PUP list. He has since taken several big steps towards finishing his recovery, most recently shedding the knee brace he had been wearing in practice. All of that has made it possible for him to even be a game-time decision in Week One. What he realizes, however, is that there will be at least 17 "game times" for the Buccaneers this season and he wants to be ready for as many of them as possible.
"I mean, that's really the key, to be honest," he said. "I think it's just trying to be as smart as possible. Obviously the competitor in me once to go as soon as I can, but just understanding that I wasn't there for the end of the season last year. That stuff really gets to me. So it's about trying to be as smart as I can and trying to make the best decision, not only for myself but what I feel is going to help the team the most down the line, down the stretch."