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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady 'Super Happy' Chris Godwin is Back to Peak Form

Knowing how hard Chris Godwin worked to return from his knee injury and how important the sixth-year receiver is to the Bucs' offense, Tom Brady was thrilled to see Godwin's signature performance in Cleveland

Through 13 games and one quarter last season, Tom Brady and Chris Godwin were enjoying one of the most productive connections the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had ever seen between a quarterback and a receiver. In Week 14, just after he made his sixth reception of 17 minutes of play, Godwin took a shot to the right knee from New Orleans Saints safety P.J. Williams, setting in motion a grueling journey for the sixth-year wideout.

The immediate results were torn ACL and MCL ligaments that would require surgery and end Godwin's season. At the time, he had already hauled in 98 of Brady's passes for 1,103 yards and five touchdowns. With three full games left, plus almost three more quarters to play in the Saints game, Godwin appeared to be a lock to blow by the Buccaneers' single-season record of 106 receptions set by Keyshawn Johnson in 2001.

In addition, the Bucs were the defending Super Bowl champions and had aspirations of a second consecutive title, but the loss of Godwin dimmed those hopes to some degree. Due to his inside-outside versatility, his extremely valuable contributions in run-blocking and his ability to pile on yards after the catch, Godwin brought a package to the Bucs' offense that nobody else on the roster could duplicate.

But the Buccaneers, who would tie for the league's best regular-season record and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, had to move on. Godwin, at the same time, had to turn his attention to his recovery, a process he attacked with fierce determination, as expected. Throughout the following offseason, the Buccaneers and Godwin would be running parallel tracks, one focused on the roster-building and practice necessary to shape another playoff contender, the other simply trying to get back on the field.

Those tracks intercepted sooner than most anticipated, as Godwin's hard work somehow kept him off the PUP list and had him in uniform ready to go for the season-opener in Dallas. A subsequent hamstring injury knocked him out for two early games and slowed down his steady progress, but since his return in Week Four Godwin has steadily rounded back into pre-injury form. At some point, Godwin was going to be fully back to being the player who made such a wide and deep impact on the Bucs' offense.

It appears as if that point was Week 12 in Cleveland. As in the days before Godwin's injury, Brady looked to him over and over again, and the connection was nearly perfect. Godwin caught 12 of the 13 passes thrown his way for 110 yards and one touchdown. It was his first 100-yard game and first touchdown of the 2022 season. Perhaps just as notably, Godwin stayed on the field for all but three of the Bucs' 69 offensive snaps, indicating there was nothing left holding him back.

For Brady, it was a sight for sore eyes.

"Yeah, [I am] super just happy for him and proud of him to get back to this point," said the quarterback. "I think it's a very tough injury to go through ACL reconstruction, and really a contact one like that. It's a lot of physical rehab; I think there's a lot of mental rehab to go through as well. And I can just tell his confidence in how he's feeling. He does so much for us when he's out there. The guy's a winner, he's a clutch player, he comes up big in every moment."

Of course, the recovery process from an ACL tear or other season-ending injury is an experience many NFL players can relate to, including Brady. The former Patriots quarterback suffered the same pair of ligament tears in his left knee in the 2008 season opener and was sidelined for the rest of the season. The timing of the injury made it much more likely that he would be ready for the start of the next season, which he was, but the steps along the way were the same. And one big step is regaining the confidence that you can play without suffering a setback.

"You always know it's going to take some time, even when you get back, to feel like yourself," said Brady. "I've had that experience where, man, yeah you're out there but it's a little…it doesn't feel quite like…you had a full offseason to prepare. You were rehabbing, you weren't [doing], I would say, performance-enhancement training. You were rehabbing, there's a difference. So you've got to get to that point where, okay, now you're actually back to just trying to be a better football player, not to be rehabbing. Chris has worked really hard. Everyone believes in Chris, loves him and is so happy when he has success. He deserves it."

And the Bucs are back to having the fully-healthy duo of Godwin and Mike Evans. Coincidentally, Godwin's 12-of-13 performance in Cleveland drew more attention to the fact that Evans only caught two of the nine passes Brady lofted in his direction. That's an unusual line for Evans, to say the least, and it included at least four deep shots that could have changed the game, which was decided nearly 10 minutes into overtime. All four fell incomplete, leading to take this week of the connection between Brady and Evans being on the fritz for some unknown reason.

Fortunately, there's more than two seasons worth of evidence that Brady and Evans can produce prolific numbers together. It's far more likely that a couple games of missed connections is a soon-to-be-forgotten bump in the road rather than a major issue.

"Certainly a guy like Mike and I, we have a lot of years together now," said Brady. "I've thrown him a lot of balls. I have a lot of confidence – he and I, I have a lot of confidence in what we can do and what we've done. We're just going to keep working at it. Football's a very humbling game for all of us. You can't every take anything for granted."

And players who sustain significant injuries, as Godwin did less than 12 months ago, cannot take it for granted that they will ever return to peak form. Godwin put in the work, however, and it looks like he has indeed made it all the way back.

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