GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers won’t have to contend with Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Brown, the seven-time Pro Bowl and four-time All-Pro receiver, was ruled out by coach Bruce Arians after Friday’s practice. Brown has been dealing with a knee injury that he tweaked in last week’s divisional win at New Orleans.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Vita Vea will be activated off injured reserve to make the NFL's best run defense even better.
Brown was signed at midseason, ending a 14-month hiatus from the league following charges of sexual assault. He had become a go-to player for quarterback Tom Brady.
Once one of the game’s dominant players, Brown showed versions of that form. In eight games, he caught 45 passes for 483 yards and four touchdowns. After games of seven catches vs. Carolina and eight vs. the Rams, he caught 11 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 17 victory over Atlanta.
In two playoff games, he caught three passes for 59 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown in the victory at Washington.
With Brown, the Buccaneers have a ridiculously talented group of weapons for Brady. Without him, the same is true. Towering Mike Evans has seven 1,000-yard seasons in as many years in the league and set a career high with 13 touchdowns. Chris Godwin, coming off a 1,000-yard season, caught 65 balls for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. Rob Gronkowski (45 catches, 623 yards and seven touchdowns) and Cameron Brate (28 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns) are double trouble at tight end.
“That’s probably a fair statement,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said on Thursday when asked if this would be the best receiver corps his team had faced this season. “They’re pretty deep. I mean, their fourth and fifth guys I think would start on most teams. The one-two punch at tight end causes problems as well, but they’re both, the running backs are good in the pass game as well. I mean, this offensive skill group, this entire offensive unit, is certainly our biggest challenge to date.”
Without Brown, who led the team with 33 targets over the final five regular-season games, the Bucs could go with more two-tight-end sets or give more snaps to Scotty Miller. A sixth-round pick last year, he caught 33 passes for 5-1 yards and three touchdowns. Most of that production – 25 of the receptions and four games of 70-plus yards – came before Brown’s arrival. He had a 29-yard catch last week vs. New Orleans.