With knee injury behind him, Bucs’ Chris Godwin flourishes again

TAMPA — The play was a simple receiver screen. In his first regular-season game with the Cowboys, Chris Godwin took a step back to catch the football on the first offensive snap and then continued for the rest of his career.

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has been planning for weeks. Godwin, who fought back from a torn ACL and MCL in his knee against the Saints on Dec. 19, 2021, intends to get the football in his hands as soon as possible. He needs to take a hit from the waist down and heal the biggest mental scars left by the incident.

Godwin caught a pass from Tom Brady, Mike Evans blocked it, and then drove 24 yards across halfway to take the lead.

“I don’t know how he did it, I really don’t know,” Leftwich said. “My best feeling of the year was the first game in Dallas. That’s why that game was called, seeing him in that game. I wanted to move it, it went (24 yards) just To show who he is as a player.

“I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, really. Going into Dallas and he’s in the starting lineup — that’s unreal. That will show you the work he’s done. I want to reward him for that. As a team, It’s good for us to see him do that because of what it’s done for us. Once he’s on his feet, the season can start.”

Godwin did suffer a hamstring strain against the Cowboys that sidelined him for a few games, but has slowly returned to the performance he knew before his knee was hit by Saints safety PJ Williams the kind of stable performance.

Along the way, Godwin has been looking for signs that he is returning to the old form that made him one of the best positions in the league.

“There’s a couple year-round,” Godwin said. “Game 1 was against the Cowboys. It was actually Game 2 of the game, but there was a penalty, so now it ended up being Game 1. That was the first time I said, ‘Yeah, now I’m back to doing it again.’ I thought there was a big play against the Ravens and I caught a cross and put it 40 yards. I started seeing bits and pieces of it, I thought, ‘Well, it’s still there.’

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“…it’s not quite there yet. But I’m starting to see more of it, which is very encouraging.”

Godwin led the Buccaneers with 89 catches for 848 yards and three touchdowns. His trademark consistency has been on display. He has had at least six catches per game since the opener, including a season-high 12 for 110 yards and a touchdown in a Nov. 27 overtime loss to the Browns.

Godwin took time off Wednesday from preparing for Sunday’s crucial game against the Panthers to reflect on his journey. A victory over the Panthers would allow the Buccaneers to successfully defend their NFC South title.

While certain anniversaries aren’t something to celebrate — Godwin’s one-year anniversary since his injury last week — he did take note of the moment.

To understand Godwin’s journey, remember that at the time of his injury, he was already taking a third of Brady’s passing targets. Despite missing the final three games, he had 98 catches — second most in club history — for 1,103 yards and five touchdowns.

It wasn’t until Jan. 3 of this year that he underwent surgery by Dr. James Andrews to reconstruct the knee, replacing the damaged ligament with the patellar tendon through a bone graft.

It took several months for Godwin to be able to walk, then run and dance again. He missed most of the team work in training camp and didn’t play in the preseason.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anybody do it so fast, be part of all the games, and improve every day,” Leftwich said.

Godwin missed the playoffs, including a divisional loss to the Rams, and can’t help but believe he could have made a difference. That’s why being able to play in Sunday’s potential NFC South clincher game is so important to him.

“I think it’s really reassuring,” Godwin said. “I try not to focus too much on the stats. I really try to see everything as my impact on the team, I try to look at the game as a whole and see if I’m making a positive impact. If How can I be better if I don’t?

“But I think being as consistent as possible is something I can try and stick to. I want to be a solid guy for my team so that every time the ball comes to me, they want the game to work out.”

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