By the end of their practice week on Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were doubtful that tight end Rob Gronkowski would be available to play on Sunday night in Foxborough against the New England Patriots but hopeful that outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul might be able to return. On Saturday, the team officially ruled both of them out. In addition, starting cornerback Carlton Davis has had his status on the official injury report updated to "questionable."
With cornerback Jamel Dean also ruled out due to a knee injury, the Buccaneers made a move to bolster the position by signing veteran Pierre Desir off the practice squad. To make room on the 53-man roster, the team waived second-year defensive lineman Khalil Davis.
Gronkowski, who suffered an injury to his ribs in Los Angeles last Sunday, did not accompany the team on its trip north Saturday. The Buccaneers then officially changed his status on the injury report from "doubtful" to "out." Gronkowski did not participate in any practices this week and will miss a game for the first time since joining the Buccaneers in 2020. He had started in all 23 games in 2020-21, including four postseason contests. Pierre-Paul also did not travel with the team; he had originally been listed as questionable on Friday after making a limited return to practice.
The Buccaneers are down to two healthy tight ends on the 53-man roster and will be looking for larger contributions from Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Brate has played 72 snaps through the first three weeks of the season and has five catches for 43 yards. Howard has played 31 snaps and has two catches for 32 yards. Both have occupied large roles in Tampa Bay's offense in the past; Brate has 228 career receptions for 2,481 and is tied for sixth in franchise history with 29 touchdowns scored. Howard has 107 career receptions for 1,634 yards and 14 touchdowns and has averaged a robust 15.3 yards per grab.
Gronkowski is the Buccaneers' current leader in touchdowns (four) and points scored (24) and has been on the field for 76% of the team's offensive snaps.
The timing of Gronkowski's injury is particularly disappointing because Sunday night's game was going to serve as a homecoming for both him and quarterback Tom Brady. Gronkowski played nine seasons for the Patriots (2010-18) before retiring in 2019 and them returning to the game in 2020 to join Brady in Tampa via a trade. As a Patriot, Gronkowski racked up 521 regular-season catches for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns and was a five-time Associated Press First-Team All-Pro. He added another 81 receptions for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in the playoffs.
Pierre-Paul will miss a second straight game due to a shoulder injury and rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will likely start in his place again. Cornerback Carlton Davis, who has started all three games so far this season, was a full participant in practice this week and was originally not given a game-status designation on Friday.
Desir, who has been on the Bucs' practice squad for almost three weeks, adds an experienced option to the cornerback group. He has played in 73 games with 44 starts during stints with the Browns, Chargers, Colts, Jets and Ravens. He most recently played 12 combined games with eight starts for the Jets and Ravens last season, recording 49 tackles, three interceptions and eight passes defensed. He has eight picks and 42 pass break-ups in his career.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2020, Davis has been inactive for the first three games of the season and saw action in just two games as a rookie.