The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to love where they stood heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. The offense was mostly healthy outside of Antonio Brown, and star defensive tackle Vita Vea was set to return to the lineup.
Antoine Winfield Jr.’s impressive rookie season
When the Buccaneers selected Antoine Winfield Jr., the son of three-time NFL Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield, in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, they were enamored with his potential. But they didn’t expect how quickly he would shine in the NFL.
Winfield jumped into the starting lineup at safety in Week 1 and immediately proved he was worth the investment. The rookie out of Minnesota started all 16 games for the Bucs in his first pro season. Winfield recorded 94 combined tackles, six passes defended, three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception in the regular season.
Besides his effective play on the field, Winfield was one of the most dependable defensive players on Tampa Bay’s roster this year. He played more than 94% of the team’s defensive snaps in all but one game in 2020, and he played every single snap in both of his first two career playoff games.
Last week, Winfield made one of the biggest plays of the NFC divisional-round matchup against the New Orleans Saints when he forced a fumble on tight end Jared Cook that led to a turnover. The Buccaneers went on to win, 30-20.
Winfield Jr. was a surprise addition to the Buccaneers’ injury report
Ahead of the Buccaneers’ matchup with the Packers in the NFC Championship Game this Sunday, Winfield was as healthy as he could be after playing 18 football games within the span of five months. He was a full participant in practice throughout the week, but he was a surprising addition to Tampa Bay’s injury report a few days before the biggest game of his life.
On Thursday, Winfield popped up on the injury report with an ankle injury even though he was listed as a full participant in practice the same day. Fans believed it was just a precautionary measure ahead of the NFC Championship Game, but it turned out to be much worse.
The Buccaneers suffer the surprising, last-second loss of Antoine Winfield Jr.
There didn’t seem to be much worry from the Buccaneers regarding Winfield’s availability for Sunday, but a surprising development will reportedly keep him off the field for the NFC Championship Game.
Just two hours before kickoff, James Palmer of NFL Network reported Winfield won’t be able to suit up for the NFC title game against the Packers. It will mark the first missed game of his stellar rookie season. With Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams waiting on the other sideline, the Buccaneers will have a tough time containing Green Bay’s passing game without Winfield patrolling the defensive backfield.
The Buccaneers will have to rely on backup safety Mike Edwards to replace Winfield on Sunday.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference