The second-year defensive tackle was placed on injured reserve Monday after tearing his right biceps during the opening quarter of a 27-16 loss to New Orleans that dropped the Bucs (4-4) into third place in the NFC South. McCoy had just returned to the lineup after sitting out the previous two games because on an ankle injury.
"That's football. That's the unfortunate part of our game," coach Raheem Morris said Monday, adding that Sunday's subpar performance against the division-leading Saints provided a snapshot of how much the 6-foot-4, 295-pound McCoy means to a defense rebuilt around him.
New Orleans rushed for 195 yards, averaging 7 yards per carry with McCoy and the 23-year-old tackle's backup, Frank Okam, on the sideline Sunday. Okam missed the game because of a sore calf, forcing Morris to fill McCoy's spot by committee with ends Michael Bennett, Da'Quan Bowers and George Johnson.
It's the second straight year McCoy's season is ending prematurely because of an arm injury. The third pick in the 2009 NFL draft missed the final three games of his rookie year with a torn left biceps.
"You can see the difference in our play up front when he's out of the game, and how it affects our get off and some of the things we're able to do positively on defense," Morris said.
"You're talking about a top three pick. You're talking about a guy who gets off the ball, causes disruptions. When he's played, he's been playing really well for us. He's done a great job for us versus the run. He's done a great job as far as the explosion and the get off. He makes game plans change."
McCoy finished with 13 tackles, including one sack. He had three sacks during a rookie season that was considered disappointing.
Ever since the former Oklahoma star got off to a slow start and didn't earn a sack until his 10th game as a pro it was clear the value of a player at McCoy's position is not determined by statistics alone.
The coach said Monday that he doesn't feel McCoy, who'll wind up missing 10 games, is injury prone. The latest injury occurred in the first quarter when he was reaching out to his right to try to make a tackle on Saints running back Chris Ivory, who gained 3 yards before being taken to the ground by another defender.
"It's football," Morris repeated. "Matt Stafford missed two seasons for the Detroit Lions and he is probably putting up his best season. (McCoy) has to come back, he has to go rehab, get his mind right and come back ready to play. And be ready to play a 16-game season."
The injury leaves just two players on the roster who are listed as true defensive tackles: 2010 second-round draft pick Brian Price, the club's other starting tackle, and backup Roy Miller. The Bucs also used their first two picks in the 2011 draft on defensive linemen, selecting ends Adrian Clayborn and Bowers.
Morris said help will be brought in from the outside before Sunday's home game against the Houston Texans. In addition to placing McCoy on injured reserve, the club released running back Chad Spann and guard-center Zane Taylor.
"Hopefully we can get Frank (Okam) back this week. He had the (calf) strain last week in practice and we have to see where he is health wise. That is an issue right now," Morris said, adding it's not ideal to move one the team's backup ends inside to fill in.