Tristan Wirfs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year right tackle, injured his ankle on the fifth play of a game-opening touchdown drive in a Wild Card round win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The sixth offensive play of the game was the first that Wirfs had missed in the regular season or postseason since he was picked sixth overall in the 2020 draft.
It was a huge blow to the Buccaneers' offense, as Wirfs had played well enough in 2021 to earn a starting spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster. After seeing his replacement at right tackle, Josh Wells, as well as center Ryan Jensen subsequently sustain leg injuries early in the same game, he eventually talked his way back onto the field. He tried hard to walk without a limp to convince his coaches he could do it, but his return only lasted three plays as he simply couldn't move on the injured ankle.
That win set up a Divisional Round matchup with the Los Angeles Rams and Wirfs worked as hard as possible all week to get his ankle in playing shape. No decision was made until the afternoon of the game, but Wirfs was ultimately unable to go.
"All week I was doing everything I could to try to come back," he said. "I remember I got to the stadium that morning and I was trying to do stuff and I just couldn't. It was really frustrating to have to see them like that, especially it turning out to be Tom's last game. It was frustrating. It was my first time not being out there. The injury rate is 100 percent in the NFL, so it was bound to happen."
Wirfs will not play in the Pro Bowl, either, though he came to Las Vegas this week to soak in the experience. The good news is, that all-star game action should be the last that he misses due to this particularly injury.
On Thursday at the NFC's Pro Bowl practice, Wirfs walked around easily without a boot on his foot or any kind of brace on his ankle, and he says that ankle is "feeling really good." He still has the two options that Head Coach Bruce Arians noted on Monday, one with and one without surgery, but he feels likely it will be the latter.
"I don't know. I don't think so," said Wirfs of surgery being a necessity. "I went up to this guy in Green Bay and he was like, 'It's only been a week, really. I see that you were trying to play on it. So give it time to rest and rehab and we'll take it from there.' That was like my first-ever real injury, so I didn't know what to expect or how to go about it. So, yeah, that was good to hear."
Any late-season injuries bring with them the concern that they will linger well into the next offseason and even into training camp. It's a little too early for Wirfs to know if his rehab will keep him out of any of the team's spring program or OTAs in May and June, but he has absolutely no worries about being ready for the start of training camp.
"Oh yeah, a hundred percent – camp, definitely. Camp regardless," said Wirfs. "We'll see what happens these next three weeks. [The doctor] said, 'Your body's your best indicator. You'll know if it's feeling better and we're good to go. And if it's not, we can go in there with a scope and fix what needs to be fixed.' He said, 'I think you'll be good.'"
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Pro Bowlers from practice on February 3, 2022.