The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense Will Be Short a Key Weapon for the NFC Championship

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Friday afternoon that Antonio Brown will not be available for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. It will be a crucial setback for an offense that used him heavily ever since his signing in the season’s ninth week.

The source of Brown’s injury

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Brown’s knee injury was one of the only blemishes on the Buccaneers’ 30-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints in last Sunday’s divisional playoff. Earlier this week, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport reported that Brown’s injury would be taken “day-to-day”, and that an MRI revealed no serious damage.

Things have obviously changed in the past few days. According to the team, Brown has not participated in practice this week. It remains to be seen whether he would play in the Super Bowl, assuming the Buccaneers defeat the Packers in the NFC Championship.

Brown’s impact on the Bucs offense

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown
Wide receiver Antonio Brown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after a touchdown | Rob Carr/Getty Images

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Antonio Brown has enjoyed a strange rapport with quarterback Tom Brady. This dates all the way back to Brown’s one and only game as a New England Patriot in 2019, when Brown caught a touchdown pass from Brady against the Miami Dolphins.

Rumors stated that Tom Brady pushed for the Buccaneers to sign Brown in free agency, although Brady denied those rumors. Regardless, when A.B. came to the team following his latest suspension, he eventually flourished in his new role. He finished his half-season in Tampa with 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns.

Brown’s best performance came in the regular season finale against the Atlanta Falcons, where he recorded 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The Buccaneers won that game, 44-27.

Will Brown’s absence doom Tampa?

It isn’t as though Brown was ever Brady’s only offensive weapon. The Buccaneers also have wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as well as tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Mike Evans has been Tampa Bay’s go-to receiver ever since the Buccaneers drafted him in 2014. This season, Evans led the team in receiving statistics across the board, with 70 receptions for 1,006 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns. Godwin hasn’t been that far behind, with 65 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

Unfortunately, there are question marks surrounding the health of Evans and Godwin. Both have been limited in practice this week due to injury — Evans with knee problems, Godwin with an injured quad. As of Friday, neither player’s injury status is listed on the Buccaneers’ official website.

Both players appeared in last week’s win over the Saints, and there is no reason to suspect that they will miss the upcoming NFC Championship. With the loss of Brown, they will need to carry more of the load against the bend-but-don’t-break defense of the Green Bay Packers.