T Anthony Davis has started all eight games at left tackle after winning the job with an impressive training camp
Television replays, slowed down to provide a closeup look at every gruesome millisecond, clearly showed Anthony Davis' right knee bending on the wrong direction on Sunday when Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers fell on it.
Thus, it can definitely be classified as good news that Davis was walking around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters on Monday, without a brace or any imminent plans to meet a surgeon.
The Buccaneers still don't know the extent of Davis' injury, or how much time he will miss, if any, but they at least had a more optimistic outlook on Monday morning. Davis sustained the injury on the second-to-last play of the first half of the Carolina game and did not return in the second half. The team is not yet sure if its starting left tackle will miss next Sunday's game against Washington.
"Anthony Davis has a sprained knee," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "It wasn't as bad as we feared. We are optimistic that it's not as bad as we feared and there is a chance [he'll play on Sunday], obviously."
Three weeks ago, against the Miami Dolphins, quarterback Brian Griese was in a similar situation after linebacker Zach Thomas rolled into the bottom half of Griese's left leg. Griese was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL, which required surgery and ended his season. If, as the team now hopes, Davis does not have an ACL injury, he should be able to return much more quickly. An MCL injury, for instance, usually requires about four weeks to heal. Davis might even have escaped serious ligament damage altogether, although the team didn't offer any speculation on that possibility one way or another on Monday.
In fact, until he is provided with more concrete information on Davis' status, Gruden was unwilling to speculate how the team would deal with his possible absence. However, with only three other tackles on the roster – including a rookie, Chris Colmer, who has yet to appear in a regular-season game – the team would have to devise a contingency plan if the news on Davis isn't as good as hoped.
Veteran Todd Steussie replaced Davis for the second half of Sunday's game and would step in again if Davis isn't available on Sunday. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker has also played left tackle during his NFL career. Gruden suggested on Monday that he would prefer to keep Colmer focused on the right tackle position, where he backs up Walker.
"We're optimistic that he's going to be okay," Gruden reiterated. "Obviously, if he isn't we'll have to do something and a roster move could be a possibility."
An absence of any length by Davis would be a blow to an offensive line that has followed up a very strong start to the season with more inconsistent performances over the past two weeks. The Bucs have just 87 rushing yards during their two-game losing streak, and quarterback Chris Simms has been sacked 10 times during that stretch.
"It would be a tough loss," said Gruden. "It's always a tough loss when you lose a starting player, whether it be a quarterback, a running back or a left tackle, certainly. We'd have to lean on Todd Steussie and we're confident in his abilities."
Gruden, however, doesn't discount what the same group of blockers accomplished during September. During a 3-0 start, the Bucs rushed for 498 yards and allowed just five sacks. While acknowledging that the blocking has been a trouble spot over the past two weeks, Gruden insists that the offensive line can return to being a team strength.
"Well, we've had some good days, we've had some tough days," said Gruden of the O-line. "And I see a lot of that on tape these days from every offensive line that I study. We took a step backwards yesterday in some areas. A lot of it had to do with the way Carolina played. They came in here and played a tremendous physical football game up front. You got a lot of pride in that room. Guys are working very hard and we're seeing some guys get better. But at the same time, we all realize that we have a ways to go to get it to where we want it to be."
Still Got It
In his 10th year in the NFL and with the Buccaneers, fullback Mike Alstott is still producing the types of plays that instantly made him a fan favorite back in 1996.
Alstott scored the 63rd touchdown of his career on Sunday, extending his own franchise record. A pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter gave the Buccaneers a first-and-goal at the Carolina one and Gruden responded to that situation the way Tampa Bay has for years: Bring in a jumbo package and give it to Alstott.
The six-time Pro Bowler actually scored rather easily, without the need of his typical second and third-effort heroics. He did rekindle memories of that type of effort, however, on a 12-yard reception in the first quarter. On third-and-10 from the Bucs' 21, Simms threw a sideline pass to Alstott at about the 28. With two tacklers immediately upon him, it appeared as if the play would come up short of moving the sticks. Instead, Alstott bounced off the first Panther and spun off the second, maintaining his balance long enough to dive for five extra yards and the first down. Four plays later, the Bucs were in the end zone on Joey Galloway's 50-yard catch.
Obviously, Alstott is not as thoroughly involved in the Buccaneer offense as he was earlier in his career. From 1997-2002, Alstott averaged 179 carries per season and had totals as high as 949 rushing yards in 1999 and 65 receptions in 1996. However, he remains a valuable short-yardage threat in the Bucs' attack and a good option on passes out of the backfield. In fact, his 13 receptions through eight games puts him pace to exactly match his average receptions total from 1997-2002: 26.
"He's having a great year as a fullback and obviously you see him catch the ball and do what he did yesterday after the catch, you realize he can still play at a high level," said Gruden. "If we need to get him more involved as a ball-carrier, we will do that. But, we like what he's doing as a fullback and that's all I can say."
Bidwell Bounces Back
He has a deep thigh bruise near his left hip and a bit of stiffness, but otherwise punter Josh Bidwell is no worse for wear after absorbing a huge, blindside hit by Panthers running back Rod Smart on Sunday.
Bidwell was trying to get in position to tackle return man Steve Smith in the second quarter when Smart sent him flying. The hit itself didn't hurt, but the unceremonious landing on the turf took Bidwell's breath away and left him on the ground for several minutes.
Smart approached Bidwell after the play and again at the end of the game, checking to see if the Bucs' punter was okay. Bidwell assured Smart he was fine, and he bore no ill will towards the Panther back on Monday.
It was clear by the end of the day, of course, that Bidwell wasn't badly hurt, as he continued to rocket enormous punts during the second half. He averaged 48.2 yards on his six punts, with a stellar net of 40.5, particularly strong given the Panthers' fearsome return men, Smith and cornerback Chris Gamble.
That performance was enough to push Bidwell to the top of the NFL's gross punting chart for the season. His 47.3-yard average on 47 kicks is just ahead of the 47.1-yard pace put up by Minnesota rookie Chris Kluwe. If maintained, that mark would easily establish a new career high for Bidwell and a new franchise record. Bidwell also ranks 10th in the NFL with a net average of 38.6.
Gruden has certainly appreciated Bidwell's efforts.
"He's having a great year for us," said Gruden. "We felt going into the season that a good solid defense and a Pro Bowl-caliber punter would allow us to be in some tight football games as we continue to find our identity as an offensive team. Josh Bidwell's having a great year and he's a tough guy. He proved that yesterday."