It's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of Sean Murphy-Bunting's return from a nasty Week 1 injury.
First off, he's a great person who does a lot of off-field work in the community, so you always hate to see bad things happen to good people. In terms of a football player, he is instrumental to the Bucs' defensive success and is the first player since Ed Reed to record an interception in each of their first three postseason games.
And lastly, the Bucs have been without their starting corners in SMB and Carlton Davis III since Week 4. Tampa Bay needs consistency and continuity to return to the defensive backfield in a bad way.
The Bucs opened up the 21-day practice window for SMB to return earlier in the week and Bruce Arians said Friday there's a chance the third-year corner could play Sunday against the Washington Football Team.
That's great if so. But the Bucs need to be careful with how they approach this decision. Arians has already admitted that it was a mistake to play Rob Gronkowski a couple of weeks ago against the Saints. There's no telling how much playing in that game added to the recovery timeline, but the undisputed point is that the Bucs did in fact rush Gronk back.
They can't afford to do that with SMB. The Bucs have dealt with so many injuries to the secondary. They haven't been hit like that at the tight end position. There are more-than-capable bodies in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate to take Gronk's place, therefore, the Bucs could afford to try and accelerate Gronk's return. Even if that's not the best strategy to deploy, anyway.
The Bucs don't have the bodies in the cornerback room to avoid a setback with Murphy-Bunting. Yes, Dee Delaney is returning from an ankle injury, but Rashard Robinson was just placed on injured reserve, so that offsets Delaney's return. Davis is still on injured reserved and Richard Sherman is in just his sixth week with the team and is also coming back from a hamstring injury that occurred from pushing himself too hard in the first two games.
Jamel Dean has also been playing really well and overall, the Bucs pass defense hasn't been a complete disaster without its top guys. The added fact that Washington doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of receiving threats (outside Terry McLaurin, of course) makes it even more logical to take SMB's return one week at a time over the remaining days.
If Murphy-Bunting is good to go this week, then by all accounts, play him. But the Bucs better double-, triple-, even quadruple-check all the boxes before suiting him up and sending him out on the field.
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