TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston limped off the field, Mike Evans was placed in concussion protocol, and two other Tampa Bay Buccaneers sustained season-ending injuries.
Thursday Night Football was hardly a painless experience for a team that already had been relying heavily on inexperienced reinforcements.
The good news Friday was Winston wasn't injured seriously when he took a hard hit on an unsuccessful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter of a 43-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The second-year quarterback was helped off the field after being stopped of the end zone by two defenders. The Bucs initially announced he was being examined for a knee injury.
"If I had my way, Jameis would have thrown that ball away and not taken that hit, but Jameis isn't going to do that," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That's the competitive side of him that sometimes can be a detriment. You love it and you hate it at the same time."
Evans, who leads the NFL with eight touchdown receptions, was evaluated for a possible concussion after being shaken up on a hard hit he took along the visiting team's sideline after making a one-handed catch.
Koetter said there's a chance the third-year receiver might not miss any practice time.
"Mike's in the concussion protocol, as is (guard) Kevin Pamphile. ... I don't even really know what all of that entails. I do know that Mike will be able to practice on Monday. We're having a very light practice," the coach said, adding that Phamphile appears less likely to be ready to participate when preparation begin the team's Nov. 13 home game against Chicago.
Meanwhile, Koetter indicated running back Antone Smith and defensive end Howard Jones both suffered season-ending knee injuries against the Falcons.
The Bucs started their fourth different starting running back on Thursday night, with rookie Peyton Barber filling in for the injured Doug Martin and sharing the workload with Smith.
Martin, the NFL's second-leading rusher a year ago, has been sidelined by a hamstring injury since Week 2. Charles Sims (knee) started two games before being on injured reserve, and Jacquizz Rodgers made three starts before a left foot injury kept him out of the lineup against Atlanta.
Evans had 11 receptions for 150 yards and two touchdowns Thursday night. He and Winston both sat out Tampa Bay's final offensive drive of the game, led by backup quarterback Mike Glennon.
The snaps were the first Winston has missed since joining the team as the first overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Koetter defended the decision to play the second-year quarterback into the fourth quarter of a lopsided game. He was shaken when the Bucs elected to try a two-point conversion after Winston's third TD pass of the night trimmed Tampa Bay's deficit to 40-20 with under seven minutes remaining.
The coach said Winston was still in the game "because players player in the NFL."
"This isn't a participation trophy. Players play. ... Jameis played every single snap last year," Koetter added. "We do have a second quarterback up, and when Mike (Glennon) came in, he did a good job. We're not going to be taking Jameis out of games. Those guys are paid to play, they want to play, and we're going to play them."