Just a few hours before kick-off in today's NFC Championship game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ruled out a key defensive back from the contest.
Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
#GoBucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. is out for today's NFC Championship game with an ankle injury.
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) January 24, 2021
">will be OUT for Sunday's title bout against the Green Bay Packers per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The 22-year-old suffered an ankle injury this week in practice and won't be able to play on it at Lambeau Field later this afternoon.
The news comes after head coach Bruce Arians designated Winfield Jr. as a "game time decision" earlier this morning. According to James Palmer of NFL Network, the rookie defensive back went through an extensive warm-up routine just after noon ET, with training staff keeping a close eye. Although there was growing optimism that their starting safety would be ready to play, the Buccaneers determined that he wasn't healthy enough after the workout.
Second-year player Mike Edwards will make his first start of the season when Tampa Bay kicks-off against Green Bay this afternoon.
Losing Winfield Jr. for a game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is a huge blow for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The rookie out of Minnesota comes from a talented NFL pedigree and already established himself as one of the brightest young defensive backs in the league. He started all 18 games for the Buccaneers this season, racking up 106 total tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles.
Without their young, breakout safety, Tampa Bay's secondary will need to fill the gap. Rodgers and the Packers boast a deadly passing attack and will likely try to pick on Winfield Jr.'s replacement early on. If the Buccaneers fall behind, 43-year-old Tom Brady will need to conjure up more postseason magic to get the win.
The NFC Championship will get underway at 3:05 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon, without Winfield Jr. on the field. The game will air on FOX.