WR Michael Clayton gutted it out Sunday after hurting his knee, but now he's concentrating on getting it back to health for Sunday's game and beyond
When Michael Clayton climbed up off the grass after his first catch against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, there were 53 minutes left in the 60-minute game.
Clayton had leapt high for a hard pass from quarterback Chris Simms on third-and-nine and held on for a 10-yard gain despite being flipped in the air by cornerback Chris Gamble. The receiver landed hard on his right knee. It was a painful way to start the day, but Clayton was determined to see the game through.
Clayton will apply the same determination to getting ready for this coming weekend's game against the Washington Redskins, but there is no guarantee he'll play this time. He is listed as questionable on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' official injury report and that is a very apt designation for his status. As of Wednesday, there was no clear indication as to whether he would be ready to go or not on Sunday.
"I think I'm going to be okay," said Clayton. "I think I'll be okay. But as of now I have to get to the point where I'm seeing it get better. Obviously running on it and stuff is not helping it at all. I'll just sit out a couple of days and see what happens. If I'm able to go, I'll be able to go. If I'm not, I'm not."
That is exactly the Bucs' approach – rest, treatment and hope. One thing appears certain, Clayton's stiff knee will have to show some improvement during the week for him to be cleared to play.
"He can't practice, he can't run right now," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's got a pretty severe bone bruise, I guess, and he's limited right now in what he can do. He's a tough guy if there ever was one. If he can come back and play, he'd certainly be the guy to do that. But he doesn't look ready to go today if we had to play, I'll say that."
Clayton has not missed a game in his two seasons in the league and is one of the Bucs' more physical players. He played a good portion of the 2004 season with an ailing left knee, then had surgery on that knee and subsequently missed much of the team's offseason work. That certainly contributed to a slower-than-expected start to Clayton's sophomore season, but he was starting to feel closer to his old self before this latest turn of events.
"I was back," he said. "But in the NFL, you never play 100%. If it's not one thing, it's another. When you play hard, when you play physical, you get hurt sometimes. That's something I've been battling with. It's just a time for me to relax and make sure I'm healthy before I go back on the field."
Clayton is one of three players who appears as questionable on the Bucs' injury report, along with safety Dexter Jackson and running back Michael Pittman. Jackson has missed the last two games with a significant hamstring injury, but his designation on the injury report actually signals an improvement in his condition. Pittman has been playing through an ailing shoulder but will once again have to be watched for improvement in the days leading up to the Washington game.
There is also one player listed as probable on the Bucs' injury report, and it's the same man who was probably the team's biggest question mark when the week began. That would be starting left tackle Anthony Davis, who went out just before halftime against the Panthers due to a knee injury that appeared to be serious.
Instead, examinations this week have revealed no ligament damage in Davis' knee, a stroke of very good fortune for the player and the team. Davis now appears to be a good bet to play, and should even be on the practice field soon.
"Anthony Davis was held out of practice for the most part but we're going to list him as probable," said Gruden. "He's going to return to practice tomorrow, so that's encouraging for us."
Obviously, the Bucs will feel better if their young tackle can handle some meaningful on-field preparations for Washington's aggressive and complicated defense. In fact, the Bucs would like to see all of their players on the field this week, because practice will be the key to shaking off their two-game losing streak.
"You get the swagger back by putting it on tape, you know what I mean?" said Gruden. "You've got to go out and you've got to perform, and to perform you've got to practice well. You've got to be on the screws in the meeting room, you've got to know what you're doing."
Julius Peppers, the Panthers' pass-rushing dynamo, came into last Sunday's game with just one sack on the season. He finished the game with three sacks on the year.
Apparently, that opened the floodgates for Peppers, because he has even managed to pick up a fourth sack before the Panthers played another game.
Peppers' sack windfall was the result of a change made regarding the statistical ruling on a play early in Sunday's game. It was actually the Bucs' first play from scrimmage, and it began with quarterback Chris Simms faking a handoff to running back Cadillac Williams and then rolling left to attempt a pass. Tight end Alex Smith was the primary target, but he and Simms' other reads were covered so the Buccaneer quarterback tried to pick up some yards with his feet.
Peppers wasn't fooled by the play-action and stayed in hot pursuit of Simms, cutting off his angle on the corner. Simms ran out of bounds at the original line of scrimmage, for a net gain of zero yards.
And that, technically speaking, is a sack. Any time a quarterback is tackled for a loss or no gain on what was clearly intended to be a passing play, the tackler gets credit for a sack. On Sunday, the play was originally ruled a run.
As a result, the Bucs allowed six sacks on the day, a season high. And Peppers got the extra statistical notch he deserved.