Not only did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose Sunday’s game at San Francisco, 21-19, they also lost the services of second-year wide receiver and special teams ace Maurice Stovall. Stovall injured his arm in the third quarter of the Bucs-49ers game as he was trying to make a catch. He was hit from the side by cornerback Nate Clements and landed awkwardly on his right forearm.
Moments later Stovall was surrounded by concerned Bucs teammates and coaches and carted off the field with an air cast on his right arm.
“Maurice Stovall broke his arm; he’ll be out for the season,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said during his Monday morning press conference. “We think [Joey] Galloway is okay; he’s got a bruised shoulder. And Ryan Nece and B.J. Askew were unable to play yesterday. Patrick Chukwurah – we’ll just update you a little bit later.”
Stovall finished the year with 10 catches for 86 yards and one touchdown, while posting 16 tackles on special teams, which is tied for second on the team. Gruden noted that the Bucs’ wide receiving corps has been depleted by injuries this season and was unsure of who will be signed to replace Stovall, who is headed to injured reserve.
“Well, we’re going to have to find out,” Gruden said. “That’s one of the things we will find out here. We’ve lost a lot of guys, starting with Paris Warren and Mark Jones and [David] Boston and now Stovall.”
Gruden suggested that Micheal Spurlock would have to step up and help Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. As for Tampa Bay’s fifth wide receiver, the Bucs currently have Taye Biddle, Chad Lucas and Brian Clark on the practice squad. Biddle and Lucas have seen limited action on the active roster this year.
Gruden began substituting some of his starters late in the second quarter after quarterback Jeff Garcia hit tight end Jerramy Stevens with a 24-yard touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 13-7 lead just before halftime. Garcia was one of the first players to leave the game, and with a rather meaningless season finale against Carolina coming up on Sunday, due to the fact that the Bucs have already clinched the NFC South title and secured a home playoff game, Gruden indicated that some players may see limited action and some may not see any action at all.
“We’ll make that determination here in the next couple days,” Gruden said, regarding the availability of Garcia, Galloway and other Buccaneers. “We’ll let you know on Wednesday.
“We’re going to keep playing. We have a lot of young guys playing and we could all use a break. I’m sure you could use a break. I could use a break. But Carolina will have no mercy on us. There a very physical, powerful defensive football team and they have a chance, we’re going to play the guys that have got us in this position and there will be a chance Anthony Davis gets some snaps. There’s a chance Matt Lehr will get some looks but as I said when you have seven offensive linemen active for every game, some of those things are just almost impossible to do.”
Despite the fact that the Bucs were still in the running for the third seed of the playoffs as of Sunday, Gruden decided to do as much substituting as possible in order to keep his starters and key players as injury-free as possible.
“You know when you start seeing your players carried off; you have emotions that go through you,” Gruden said. “Our plan going into the game was to give Garcia some work in the first half, we knew we were going to throw the football in San Francisco and throw it we did. We had great success, I think we had nine explosive plays of 20 yards or more, should’ve had more than that. Our plan was to rotate some players in the second half and a couple of guys late in the second quarter. We were going to use the last two games to get some young players an opportunity to play. That’s a get teacher experience. Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jeremiah Trotter – we might need these guys in the playoffs and that was the plan going into the game; that will be the plan certainly to a degree this week. It’s not an easy decision, but I think one that is needed to be made.”
Gruden said he was pleased with the play of Trotter, who saw action for the first time on the Buccaneers defense, as well as both rookie linebackers – Black and Hayward.
“I thought it was good, it really was. I was pleased,” Gruden said. “We had a breakdown in coverage on one particular occasion, maybe two, but I thought they played hard. I thought they tackled. They knew what they were doing, and they looked like they had fun playing, and showed some promise. These are guys that we’re counting on in our future and Kalvin Pearson got to play some safety. We got Will Allen in the football game a little bit, that was good. I was pleased to see that tape and see where we are in terms of progress.”
Expect to see more of Black, Adams, Trotter and other reserves in Tampa Bay’s regular season finale` at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
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