P Dirk Johnson sustained a season-ending hamstring injury Sunday in Atlanta
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their last-minute loss at Atlanta on Sunday without two of their core special teams players. They'll have to finish the 2009 season that way, too.
Cornerback Torrie Cox and punter Dirk Johnson were placed on injured reserve on Monday, one day after sustaining second-half injuries in the 20-17 defeat in the Georgia Dome. Cox hurt his left hip while playing defense in the fourth quarter, shortly after Johnson injured his left hamstring attempting a fake punt earlier in the period.
Rookie cornerback Brandon Anderson will be promoted from Tampa Bay's practice squad to replace Cox, and the team will obviously scour the waiver wire in search of a new punter. Johnson himself was a replacement for standout punter Josh Bidwell, who underwent hip surgery in August and was lost for the season.
The Buccaneers also made one additional roster move on Monday, moving guard Arron Sears to the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list. Sears, who left the team in the spring to attend to a private matter, was reinstated on November 17 and the Bucs were given a two-week exemption before a decision had to be made on his roster status. Though the team was thrilled to have the two-year starter back in the fold, it was not expected that he would make a significant impact during the final seven weeks of the season. Monday's move, of course, confirms that Sears will not play in a game for the remainder of the year.
While on the NFI list, Sears can be at team headquarters and can attend meetings, work with the trainers and utilize the weight room and the strength staff. However, he cannot practice with the team or play in its last five games.
Sunday's injury was a cruel blow for Cox, who was having perhaps his most impactful season since he was drafted in the sixth round in 2003. Not only was the former Pro Bowl alternate excelling again on special teams, leading the Bucs with 16 kick-coverage tackles, but he had recently taken over the primary nickel back role on defense.
The latest ailment also continues a terrible streak of injury luck for Cox, who has already kept his NFL career alive through three ACL tears and the resulting reconstructive knee surgeries. Cox missed all of his rookie season after the first of those injuries, and also lost most of 2007 and all of 2008 to similar mishaps.
Johnson, who was signed on August 13 after previously playing for New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago and Arizona, handled all of the team's punting duties during the first 11 games, save for the last one on Sunday in the Georgia Dome. He punted 62 times for 2,558 yards, posting a gross average of 41.3 yards per kick and a net of 36.7. Johnson hit only three touchbacks on the season while dropping 16 punts inside the 20 and finished with a long punt of 63 yards. He also served as the team's holder on all placekicks.
Johnson was hurt as he scrambled to his right and then back to his left while trying to find an open receiver on a well-defended fake punt. He later came back onto the field to hold for Connor Barth's 51-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, but Barth handled the Bucs' final punt, hitting a 46-yarder from deep inside Tampa Bay territory.
Anderson has been on the Bucs' practice squad since September 15, when both he and Derrick Roberson were signed as free agents. Roberson was previously promoted to the active roster and has played extensively on defense in the last three weeks. Anderson now joins him and may see action immediately, as well, given the loss of Cox and the hamstring ailment that kept cornerback Aqib Talib off the field in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
The 5-10, 179-pound Anderson entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts this past spring and later saw preseason action with the Cleveland Browns. At Akron, he was a four-year letterman who played in 48 games with 17 starts and totaled 113 tackles. He hails from Dublin, Virginia.