Going into this week’s matchup, the team was battered. The defensive line lost two of its starters. Players were shuffled around. No-names were signed to compensate for the dwindling depth at the position. Two down. We were down a starting running back. Three down. We had just lost our $9 million cornerback for the season. Four down. It seemed our players were dropping like flies the week leading up to the meeting with our long-time foes.
Come game day we crossed our fingers and prayed to whatever gods we believed in that the injuries would stop and we wouldn’t lose anyone else crucial come game time. Losing RB Doug Martin (#22) came as a surprise to many. As late as Friday, reports indicated he would be healthy enough to play. He had practiced that week. Then Sunday the news broke: Martin was inactive for the game and RB Bobby Rainey (#43) would start.
And the injuries didn’t stop after the first snap. The first casualty come game time was DT Gerald McCoy (#93) on the first drive of the game. Five down. McCoy left the game with a hand injury, returning briefly in the second quarter and sitting out for the remainder of the game. A shame too, as this organization was highly anticipating the matchup between him and former Buccaneer G Davin Joseph. It could not have come at a worse time, as the line was already depleted due to DE Adrian Clayborn (#94) being put on Injured Reserve earlier that week and DE Michael Johnson (#90) nursing an ankle injury from the bench. DE Da’Quan Bowers‘ (#91) return that week could not have come at a better time given the depth issues and his flexibility with playing anywhere on the line.
It seemed after McCoy left the defensive line found its spark. The team’s only sacks came in the second half, when the team played with more oomph than we’ve seen in a long time. DT Clinton McDonald (#98) earned his first sack of the season on Rams QB Austin Davis (#9), the second backup-that-didn’t-play-like-a-backup the Buccaneers have faced thus far in the season. Sunday’s game was DE William Gholston‘s (#92) first after returning from injury. He certainly made it memorable by getting the second sack against Davis.
The Bucs also lost LB and play caller Mason Foster (#59) to the first half. Six down. He was replaced by capable backup LB Dane Fletcher (#50) who helped ignite the team with a forced fumble on Rams RB Zac Stacy (#30).
And yet the injury that finished the game was probably the one that hurt the most. The Buccaneers were only trailing by 2 points. WR Mike Evans (#13) made a beautiful catch on a jump ball at the 33-yard line with 16 seconds left. On the way down he was clobbered in the back by Rams S T.J. McDonald (#25). As the rest of the offense scrambled to line up so QB Josh McCown (#12) could spike the ball, Evans struggled to get up. Seven down. As Evans struggled to get up, the clock ticked down. 11… 10… 9…. The officials blew the whistle with 8 seconds left. By rule when an injury causes stoppage in the last two minutes of a half, 10 seconds are to be run off the clock.
Bucs players and fans alike watched dejectedly as our chance at victory drained down along with those 8 seconds. Reporters noted the locker room after the game was one of the most somber they had ever encountered.
Fitting, really, that we lose that way. A week plagued by injury ends with one.