O.J. Howard has a big night, but still may not be back to 100 percent

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Philadelphia Eagles
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Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard suffered a torn Achilles tendon against the Chargers last October. He made his official return to action in Week Two. In Week Six, he showed that he’s all the way back, or close to it, with six catches for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles.

“I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent of where he was, but he’s real close,” coach Bruce Arians told reporters on Friday. “I don’t know if his 40-time is the same as it was. We have all those tracking devices on him [so] I’m anxious to see how fast he was running last night. He’s hit a couple good ones in practice, about 18 miles per hour, so we’ll wait and see.”

Howard’s production helped fill the void created by the ongoing absence of Rob Gronkowski, who has missed three games after suffering cracked ribs and a punctured lung in Week Three against the Rams.

If Gronkowski had been placed on injured reserve, he would have missed three games before he could return. In hindsight, the Bucs should have made that move, which would have given them a roster spot.

“There wasn’t any rush to put him on IR,” Arians said Friday. “We didn’t really need a roster spot in that point in time, so we’re good.”

They’re definitely good. At 5-1, they’re one of the best teams in the league. And the schedule doesn’t have many stiff challenges until Week 14, when the Bills come to town. But for a Halloween trip to New Orleans, the Bucs should be able to keep winning and winning. If they beat the Saints, Tampa Bay could possibly show up for their game against the Bills with a 12-1 record.