Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea suffered a broken ankle during Thursday night's 20-19 loss to the Chicago Bears and probably will miss the rest of the season, coach Bruce Arians said Friday.
Arians called the injury a "big, big loss."
"(When) you lose players like O.J. (Howard) and Vita, you can plug the next man in, but they're not the same," Arians said. "I hate it for him because he was having such a great year."
Vea suffered the injury with 1:39 remaining, when teammate Devin White rolled up on his right leg as the two were making a tackle of Bears running back David Montgomery. Vea was then carted off the field.
"I don't know if there was a better nose tackle out there. He was getting sacks. He was getting pressure up the middle. (He) got hurt on a great hustle play on the side going back and forth and it was really friendly fire that got his leg. He was playing really, really well," Arians said.
Vea, a first-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2018, has two sacks in five games this season and is a key reason the Bucs have been so successful in stopping the run the past two years.
At 6-foot-4, 347 pounds, Vea has frequently taken on double-teams, along with Ndamukong Suh, allowing Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and Will Gholston to get to the quarterback, and he plays a key role in Todd Bowles' A-gap blitzes.
Vea's first two NFL seasons were marred by injuries. His missed all of the 2019 preseason with a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his left knee. Vea also missed all of training camp and the first three games of the 2018 season with a calf injury.
But even though he started training camp with a hand injury that forced him to undergo a procedure before camp and wear a club on his hand, many within the Bucs organization felt Vea was having a breakout season.
His 14.7% pass rush win rate and his 13.3% pass rush win rate against double-teams were both second in the league among nose tackles, behind only Tyson Alualu of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vea's 2.0 sacks created were also most among nose tackles, as were his whopping 17 pass rush first pressures through five games.
Vea's loss will likely mean more snaps for Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who doesn't have Vea's measurables -- very few have that size or quickness getting into the backfield -- but Nunez-Roches has been praised by the coaching staff for his relentless motor.
The Bucs must now regroup for arguably one of their toughest tests of the season in Week 6, when Aaron Rodgers and the 4-0 Green Bay Packers come to Tampa. The Packers' 38 points per game are the most of any team through the first four weeks of the season.