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DeForest Buckner (knee) guts out strong performance when Colts needed him most

INDIANAPOLIS -- DeForest Buckner’s absence was immediately noticeable.

Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 287 pounds, Buckner’s hard to miss in any circumstance, but after the defensive tackle went down and stayed there late in the second quarter, Lucas Oil stadium had to hold its breath.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers clearly saw it too, and on the first play with Buckner on the sidelines, Tom Brady handed the ball to Leonard Fournette, who drove right through the heart of the Indianapolis Colts defensive line for a 12-yard gain.

“He’s everything to the d-line, he’s everything to this defense,” linebacker and fellow defensive captain Darius Leonard said. “Hopefully he didn’t get hurt too bad and he can play next week."

While his status for next week is far from certain, Buckner’s injuries weren't enough to keep him out of the remainder of Sunday’s 38-31 loss to Tampa Bay. Despite two different incidents which left the former Oregon star hobbled, he gutted out a strong performance against Brady and the Buccaneers, the only real bright spot on a defense which wasn’t able to keep up down the stretch.

“We didn’t come up with the stops we needed to in crunch time,” Buckner said. “And also I mean, going against a great team in Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, penalties really hurt us, helped them extend downs in key moments.”

Buckner finished the game with three tackles, all solo and one of Indianapolis’ two sacks. He ate up a double team on 3rd-and-6 to allow fellow defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, running a stunt, to hit Brady and force the 3-and-out early in the fourth quarter.

And after Nyheim Hines muffed the punt, it was Buckner who stepped up again. This time, he pressured the Tampa Bay quarterback on a crucial 3rd-and-goal from the Colts 6-yard line. Brady had to rush an incompletion and the Buccaneers kicked a field goal, keeping Indianapolis close in the fourth,

But Buckner’s night almost ended much earlier.

Trying to keep Fournette out of the end zone on 1st-and-goal from the Indianapolis 1, Buckner came up limping while the Buccaneers celebrated. He went to the injury tent, but quickly reemerged, and after a quick warm up he was back out to help protect an extra point just two drives later.

The second time he went down looked much worse.

With Fournette running the ball near midfield and needing just a yard for a first down, Tampa Bay picked up six. But lying on the Colts logo, Buckner writhed in pain, holding his knee.

Frank Reich came out to check on his star defensive tackle. Kwitty Paye stood nearby with his hands on his hips. Stallworth, cornerback Kenny Moore II and linebacker Bobby Okereke all took a knee. Brady even came over to check on him. Buckner said he was initially worried it was a serious injury.

“I was on the ground for a little bit,” he said. “It was just sore all over the place. I couldn’t really pinpoint where it was at so it was definitely scary for a little bit. Then I started to settle in, started moving around and I knew I could go.”

The Colts certainly needed him, and they’ll hope he can play next week when they travel to the Houston Texans in the Colts' final game before the bye week. While Buckner couldn’t guarantee he’d be available, he confirmed his leg felt better.

“It’s a little sore, but we’ll find out more tomorrow,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts vs. Bucs: DeForest Buckner guts out outing vs. Tom Brady