Before joining most of the other Bucs starters on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium sideline, Chris Godwin delivered an inspirational — and nearly historic — extended cameo Sunday.
Barely a year after surgery to repair two torn knee ligaments, the sixth-year receiver caught six passes for 55 yards, giving him 104 receptions for 1,023 yards on the season and putting him in prime candidacy for NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
He finished only two catches short of Keyshawn Johnson’s 21-year-old franchise record for receptions in a season (106).
“Incredibly difficult, and he’s a very tough guy,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s not like he’s catching where he’s not getting hit, either. He’s in the middle of a lot of bodies a lot of the time, and he just shrugs them off and does his work and never complains.”
As a result of the 30-minute performance, Godwin and Mike Evans both hit the millennial mark for the third time in the last four seasons. Only one other time (Evans and Vincent Jackson in 2014) have the Bucs produced two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.
Evans, sidelined by what coach Todd Bowles called “a bug going around the building,” didn’t play Sunday but reached 1,000 yards last week with his monstrous performance (10 catches, 207 yards, three touchdowns) against the Panthers.
Evans finished the regular season with 1,124 yards — 101 ahead of Godwin.
“My surgery was Jan. 3, so around this time (last year) I was just watching everybody play, and I just wanted to get back,” Godwin said.
“So for it to be a year later and to have 100 catches and 1,000 yards, it means a lot to me because it means that I’m really contributing to my team. I just try to go out and have as big of an impact as I can and try to be as positive as I can with the guys, and hopefully it leads to wins.”
By the first half Sunday, the Bucs’ patchwork offensive line resembled a preseason one.
Center Robert Hainsey, one of two starting offensive linemen who also started the season opener, exited with a hamstring injury in the first half, forcing guard Nick Leverett to switch to center.
With left tackle Donovan Smith (foot) inactive and right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle) being held out, the line eventually comprised Leverett, left tackle Brandon Walton, left guard John Molchon, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Luke Goedeke. The action was the first in an NFL regular-season game for Molchon, primarily a practice-squad player the last three seasons.
Additionally, tight end Kyle Rudolph — who caught a first-quarter touchdown pass from Brady — also exited (knee) and was joined on the sideline in the second half by safety Keanu Neal (hip). Receiver Russell Gage appeared to injure his back on a 3-yard scoring catch from Blaine Gabbert late in the first half but walked off on his own.
Bowles had no immediate updates on Hainsey, Rudolph, Neal or Gage. Previously injured Bucs deemed inactive Sunday included Smith, cornerback Carlton Davis (shoulder), edge rusher Carl Nassib (pectoral), receiver Julio Jones (knee), nose tackle Vita Vea (calf), and safeties Mike Edwards (hamstring/hip) and Logan Ryan (knee).
“I don’t know if Donovan would’ve been ready,” Bowles said. “Vita could’ve played and Tristan could’ve played, but we wanted to give them an extra week to get better as opposed to just playing it week-by-week.”
By the numbers
5 Touchdown catches for Russell Gage this season, a career-high. Gage had a 3-yard TD reception from Blaine Gabbert with 1:46 to play in the first half.
9 Fumble recoveries by Devin White since entering the league in 2019, most in the NFL during that span. White scooped up a Desmond Ridder fumble late in the first half.
99 Different players (regular season and postseason) who have caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the NFL. Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph became No. 99 with his first TD catch of the season in the first half.
124 Tackles this season for both White and Lavonte David, who finished tied for the team lead
490 Completions this season for Brady, eclipsing his own NFL single-season mark (485) set in 2021. Brady finished 13 of 17 for 84 yards and a touchdown before exiting late in the first half.
733 Pass attempts this season by Brady, breaking the NFL mark set by Matthew Stafford (727) in 2012
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