S John Lynch played less than a quarter before his injury on Sunday, but he is expected back sooner than fallen mate Mike Alstott
James Wilder's record is safe for a little while longer.
Fifth-year FB Mike Alstott, who has steadily tracked down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' career touchdown record, will be on the shelf for somewhere in the range of six to eight weeks, the team revealed on Monday. Alstott suffered a left knee sprain on Sunday in Chicago and, with just five weeks remaining in the regular season, will not be available for the team's playoff push in December.
That's a significant blow for a Buccaneer offense that has at times looked sharp and at times struggled, as it did in Chicago on Sunday. The Bucs appeared to be prepared to establish a power running game against the Bears in the second quarter of their eventual 13-10 loss, but Alstott twisted his knee awkwardly in the middle of a heavy pile-up on just his second carry.
Alstott is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns and has a career total of 39, just seven back of Wilder's franchise record of 46.
"Mike is a tough (loss) because he's been a big part of our offense and he plays a lot of different positions for us," said Head Coach Tony Dungy on Monday. "We're going to have do without him for a little while. That's tough, but that's what happens this time of the year, and other people have to step up."
Specifically, Alstott suffered a third-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee. He will probably not have to go under the knife.
"It doesn't sound like it's going to require any surgery," said Dungy. "It's just a matter of resting it up and letting it heal, so that's a positive."
Alstott's condition was the worst half of the team's anticipated injury news on Monday. Like Alstott, S John Lynch was given an MRI exam Monday morning, and his results were more encouraging. Lynch suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder during Sunday's game. As expected, there is no further damage in the joint and he should not have an extended absence.
"John is very sore," said Dungy. "He had a dislocation. It's going to be a pain-tolerance thing. He's sore and stiff this morning. Right now, I'd say it's pretty questionable whether he'll play this week, but he should definitely be able to play in two weeks."
The Bucs' training staff is likely to start Lynch off as questionable on the injury report, but he will need to overcome the stiffness in his shoulder and regain the strength in his rotator cuff to be able to take the field against Buffalo next Sunday. That possibility has not been ruled out but the Bucs must prepare for the possibility of his absence against the Bills.
"Right now, our safety position is pretty thin," said Dungy. "David Gibson is just recovering from a quad pull, so we don't have a lot of healthy guys back there. And safeties are pretty important to the way we play. Given the fact that Buffalo, we think, is going to come in here and run and be very physical, we need to get that squared away."
Dungy had added concern regarding his defensive secondary because Lynch wasn't the only safety to go down in Chicago. Though he later returned to the game, S Eric Vance was also hurt in the first half.
"Eric Vance and Steve White have ankle sprains and we're probably going to look at casting those guys up and they may be out this week," said Dungy. "So we're a little bit banged up on defense at safety, and then with Mike."
One possible roster addition to help with that situation would be former Buccaneer safety Shevin Smith. Smith played the 1998 and '99 seasons with Tampa Bay, appearing in 19 games with 13 tackles and 21 stops on special teams. He suffered a dislocated toe in the preseason against New England on August 20 and left the team with an injury settlement on August 27.
Dungy did not bring up the possibility of re-signing Smith, but he did confirm that the team was in a position to do so. Because of the injury settlement, Smith was not free to re-sign with the team before Week 10. That date has passed, so Smith is basically an NFL free agent.
"Shevin is eligible," said Dungy. "That's something that we'll probably take a look at, given the health of our safeties."
A woollier question is how the Bucs will adjust to Alstott's absence from the lineup. It does not appear as if they will look for a replacement to add to the roster.
"We've got enough backs, with Charles Kirby and Rabih (Abdullah) and Aaron (Stecker). What we're going to feature – whether we're going to be more two-tight-ends or more three-wide-receivers – I think we'll have to look at, but we've got enough backs to get it done.
We've got confidence in all those guys. Rabih played in the short-yardage package yesterday and I think he'll be ready to do that. How we'll play and how we'll play, who we'll use – we'll kind of look at that during the week and decide."
So the Buccaneers got some answers on Monday morning, but it simply led to more questions. This isn't a new test, however, or one unique to the Buccaneers. For the most part, Tampa Bay has been fortunate with the serious injury factor in recent years, but it may have just been a matter of time.
"In the years that you win, you generally get through without a lot of major injuries," said Dungy. "But that is part of football, and we've had guys out for a week or two and you have to step up and get the job done. We'll have to do the same thing in this situation. But, yes, we've been pretty fortunate over the time I've been here."