TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rode their replacements again on Sunday afternoon. There’s a chance, though, that they may not be able to ride at least one of them again. At least not for a while.
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers sat in front of his locker late Sunday hoping for the best but fearing the worst after a foot/ankle injury knocked him out of the Buccaneers’ 30-24 loss to the Raiders.
“I don’t think it’s too bad, but I have to go see the trainers so I was told not to say anything to the media about it,’’ Rodgers said. “We’ll just have to see how it is.’’
Even if the news is good, and Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter suggested it won’t be, the chances of Rodgers being ready for the Buccaneers’ NFC South battle with Atlanta on Thursday night are not.
That could further impact an already depleted Buccaneers offense, which has survived the last two weeks largely as a result of the work turned in by replacements such as Rodgers and wide receiver Russell Shepard.
Filling in for Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson respectively, Rodgers and Shepard had combined for 369 yards and a touchdown in the two victories the Buccaneers posted prior to taking on the Raiders.
It was more of the same Sunday. Rodgers ran 19 times for 69 yards and a touchdown, and Shepard caught two passes for 24 yards and a touchdown to help the Buccaneers build a 24-17 lead.
That lead disappeared in the final five minutes of regulation, of course, and you could make the argument that it was due at least in part to the absence of Rodgers, who left the game during that key five-minute stretch.
Without Rodgers, the Buccaneers turned to Antone Smith to pace their rushing attack, and he simply wasn’t up to the task, running twice for 7 yards and a fumble that he was lucky to get back from Khalil Mack.
Not that it mattered. With their running game struggling, the Buccaneers turned to Winston and their deep passing game to win the game, but Winston wasn’t quite up to the task either.
Just as he had earlier in the day, he missed on a deep throw to Mike Evans on the Buccaneers’ first offensive play of the extra session and struggled all through the overtime, completing just one of four passes for 5 yards.
“We had been kind of saving that double-move shot play to Mike and we had a shot at it there,’’ Koetter said. “Jameis threw it up there but the wind got it a little bit or something, I really couldn’t see.’’
Winston could see and he didn’t blame the miss on the wind. He blamed it on the same issue that has plagued him since he came into the league as the first overall pick in the draft last year.
“I just wasn’t precise enough,’’ Winston said. “I’ve got to give guys a chance. There’s too many open people, so I’ve just got to get better. Like I said, I just wasn’t precise enough.
“It’s not a matter of guys not getting open. Sometimes I throw the ball and other guys are open. I mean, someone is always open. I have to go through my progressions and find ways to get guys the ball.’’
Winston found a way early on. He completed 10 of his first 15 passes for 104 yards and that touchdown to Shepard, whom he found in the back right corner of the end zone with a touch pass over the head of the defender.
From that point on, though, Winston struggled, completing just six of his final 16 passes for 76 yards during a second half in which he lost Shepard for a bit, too.
Shepard went down early in the second half after he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Raiders safety Karl Joseph, and while he eventually returned, there’s still a lot of concern for Rodgers.
“We missed Quizz,’’ Winston said. “I mean, dang, that’s a tough one. But you know what, the way we’ve handled injuries this year has been outstanding. So it’s another opportunity for somebody to step up.’’