After starting the season 0-2, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use all the help they can get.

Tampa Bay’s defense, which allowed Atlanta to rush for 306 yards and produce a whopping 389 total yards of offense en route to a 14-3 victory Sunday, could get that help if starting cornerback Brian Kelly returns to the lineup for the Bucs’ upcoming contest against the Carolina Panthers.

Kelly, who was listed as probable for the game vs. Atlanta, was unable to play because of a turf toe injury that wouldn’t allow him to plant properly when he showed up at The Georgia Dome on Sunday.

“It just didn’t feel good,” said Kelly. “For me, it’s a situation where I have to feel comfortable putting it in the ground and planting because if I played another position I probably would have been able to run. But the fact is every play I’m running and planting it in the ground, and I just didn’t have that confidence in it and didn’t feel good about it.”

Kelly was replaced by CB Juran Bolden, who may have to start at left cornerback again should Kelly not be able to play Sunday vs. the Carolina Panthers. While he is hopeful he will return to the starting lineup, Kelly, 30, is concerned that the turf toe injury has lingered for several seasons and doesn’t appear to be improving.

“It’s turf toe, but it’s degenerative and it’s been going on for about three years,” said Kelly. “It’s some wear and tear, and my concern is it’s just not getting any better. I’m not a big shot guy, or a guy that’s used to taking a lot of shots, especially on a foot. So I want to make sure it’s something that’s not getting any worse.”

A 1998 second-round draft pick out of USC, Kelly has started 74 of the 118 career games he’s played in as a Buccaneer. Kelly, who has 20 career interceptions, had started 33 consecutive games before missing Sunday’s contest in Atlanta.

Team doctors continue to evaluate Kelly’s injury as it is cause for concern. After all, a similar turf toe injury essentially forced CB Deion Sanders to temporarily hang up his cleats and helmet in 2001.

“It put Deion Sanders in retirement for a while,” said Kelly. “For corners, this is what we get – toes always turn up messing up. I just want to make sure this is something I can deal with. My pain tolerance is high, so I’m okay with that. I just want to make sure I’m fine.”

Although they expect him to play Sunday, the Bucs will continue to evaluate Kelly’s foot in an effort to help remedy the injury that sidelined him for parts of organized team activities and training camp.

“We’ll get some further information on that,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “He’ll have some other people look at it. But at this stage we expect him to play unless we find out otherwise.”

Kelly intends on playing Sunday when Carolina comes to Tampa Bay. Both division rivals are 0-2, and the Bucs’ secondary could certainly use some help against the Panthers offense, which features wide receivers Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson.

“I would hope so,” Kelly said of playing Sunday. “It’s a big game for us. We’re 0-2 and it would be nice to get a win going into a bye week. We’ll see.”

In other injury news, Bucs right guard Davin Joseph (knee) and tight end/long snapper Dave Moore (rib) have been ruled out of Sunday’s game vs. Carolina.

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