While his dreams of playing in the NBA are officially gone, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ receiver Mike Evans finally got a chance to put his basketball skills to use in the team’s 34-17 victory Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
With quarterback Jameis Winston flushed out of the pocket, Evans caught his quarterback’s eye and pointed his finger in the air. Winston doing what every point guard, er, quarterback should do, lofted a perfect jump ball that Evans leaped up and grabbed in the end zone.
The only thing missing was a rim for Evans to slam it through.
But while basketball remains Evans’ first love, he is putting up Pro Bowl-type numbers in his third year as a receiver with the Buccaneers. Evans has 40 catches for 545 yards and six touchdowns this season. His touchdowns are tied for sixth best in the league. He is tied for the third-most receptions per game (6.7) and ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards per game (90.8). Evans is the only player in the NFL to rank in the top five in all three categories and is one of two players (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is the other) to rank in the league’s top 10 in catches, yards and touchdown receptions.
Evans is having the perfect rebound season from 2015. While he had a career-high in receiving yards last season with 1,206, his touchdowns dropped from 12 his rookie season to three and he was among the league leaders in dropped passes. After his eight catch, 96-yard performance against San Francisco, it is apparent Evans has responded with a vengeance.
“I think Mike has just really improved his work habits in practice,” head coach Dirk Koetter said. “Mike is like he’s on a mission out there.”
It is apparent.
During the offseason, Evans vowed to be a better, more consistent receiver this year. He spent the offseason not only honeymooning with his new wife but also spending more time with Winston both on and off the field. The result has been a chemistry between the two that was lacking in Winston’s rookie year in 2015.
“I got hit by a linebacker and I was slowed up,” Evans said in describing the touchdown play. “(Winston) did a great job scrambling. I just threw my hand up and he put it to where only I could get it. We’ve been working on stuff like that all year.
“That’s the money down,” he said of the third down touchdown reception. “We get a lot of reps in practice at it. When it’s third down, I want to win, no matter what the coverage is. He trusts me and he’s comfortable with me on third down.”
Winston has been comfortable with Evans all season. Only Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton has had more targets (passes thrown to) than Evans this season. It is a trust that has come with a lot of reps during the offseason. It also has helped that Evans has been primarily healthy this season, something the Buccaneers have needed.
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After releasing tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and with veteran receiver Vincent Jackson being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, the Buccaneers have needed the former first round pick to be even more of a playmaker this season.
Evans has responded the way the team had hoped.
His touchdowns are the most by a Buccaneers’ receiver after six games and he is the only player in the NFL to have caught a touchdown in five different games.
“Mike’s just getting open,” Winston said. “We put in a lot of work. Hard work pays off, and you see it coming. There was one scramble, on the third-down conversion that we worked at the end of practice one day. Even though we were working on it at a different part of the field, we worked it. He’s starting to see, and he’s been seeing, I just have to get him the ball, that when we work on something it’s going to show up in the game.”