The Antonio Brown experiment in Tampa Bay has mostly gone well for the Buccaneers. If it's going to get a strong finale, it'll have to be in the Super Bowl.
Brown is out of the NFC Championship game Sunday vs. the Packers due to an injury picked up against the Saints in Tampa Bay's divisional round win. It'll be the first game Brown misses since he made his Buccaneers debut in Week 9, and it'll set back the underdog five-seed and Tom Brady. Tampa Bay will still have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate to throw to, among others.
"It obviously sucks for Antonio. We wish he could be out there with us," Brady told reporters during the week. "Other guys are gonna have to step up and do the job. I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that haven't been out there as much when AB's been in there."
The absence of Brown will be felt most when Brady looks for quick-hitting throws when the Packers send pressure. Unlike previous stops in his career, Brown has filled a mostly possession receiver role for the Buccaneers. On the season, combining regular season and playoffs, Brown has played 10 games and caught 48 passes for 542 yards and five touchdowns.
Here's more about the injury keeping Brown out of action in the NFC title game.
Why isn't Antonio Brown playing?
Antonio Brown injured his knee during the Buccaneers' divisional round win against the Saints. He could be seen at times on the Fox broadcast limping on the sideline.
At the start of NFC Championship week, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians called Brown "day-to-day." But he was unable to participate in practice all week.
"I just talked to him this morning, and to put him on the plane and fly up there and have it swell more doesn't make any sense," Arians told reporters Friday. "He wasn't as close as we'd hoped, so we'll get him ready for the next one."
Arians' allusion to the "next one" in this case means Super Bowl 55, scheduled to be played in the Buccaneers' home stadium, Raymond James Stadium, on Feb. 7. A win against the Packers without Brown would send Tampa Bay to the final game of the season, scheduled two weeks later.
That additional two-week layoff would likely give Brown enough time to return to the field and play in the Super Bowl. To get there, though, the Buccaneers may need contributions from less likely sources.
In Week 8, the final game before Brown suited up for Tampa Bay, Scotty Miller played 76 percent of the offensive snaps as the Buccaneers' third receiving option. Rookie Tyler Johnson, out of Minnesota, has also seen more time in recent weeks and been given praise by Brady.
Without Brown, either Miller or Johnson could play a larger offensive role, and the Packers should be able to key in more on stopping Evans and Godwin. Brown's chances of playing one final game this season will depend on who wins those machups.