Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes to Mike Evans in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 38-3 win over Chicago on Sunday, and none of them was longer than nine yards. However, when Brady wanted to stick the dagger in late in the first half, he and Evans went for the long ball and the Bears were essentially done.
The Bucs already led 21-3 in the second quarter when a 10-yard catch by Chris Godwin got the ball just across midfield with four minutes left in the half. From the Chicago 48, Tampa Bay came out in "11" personnel, with Evans, Tyler Johnson and Cyril Grayson as the three receivers, along with Leonard Fournette in the backfield and tight end O.J. Howard lined up tight next to right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Brady was under center with Fournette directly behind him.
As has often been the case over the past two seasons, Evans lined up as the isolated receiver on his side, to Brady's left, just outside the numbers. Howard, Grayson and Johnson were all to the right, with Johnson lined up outside of Grayson and motioning just to Grayson's left before the snap. The Bears were in man-to-man coverage and corners Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor traded off Johnson and Grayson went Johnson went in motion.
Since Brady arrived Evans has been one of the league's most dangerous weapons when in iso. Since the start of 2020, he has scored nine touchdowns when aligned as the isolated receiver, four more than any other player in the league in that span, according to Next Gen Stats. He's also third in receptions, fourth in targets and fifth in routes run out of iso in that span.
Evans was facing tight coverage from Chicago's top corner, Jaylon Johnson, who often shadows the opposition's top receiver. Johnson was only giving Evans 2.4 yards of cushion at the line, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and he was lined up with outside leverage, shaded to Evans' left leg. Since Evans intended to run a go route down the left sideline, he had to erase this leverage by taking two steps up and one quick step to his right, which caused Johnson to lean briefly in that direction. That's all that Evans need to get around him on the outside.
At the snap, Brady turned and faked a handoff to Fournette before looking first at Grayson, who was also running a go on the right side. Though Grayson is very fast, Vildor did a good job of staying with him, never giving up more than one yard of separation during the route, according to Next Gen Stats. After that initial look at Grayson, Brady quickly turned his attention to Evans.
As the Bucs' offense broke the huddle and started to get set, safety Eddie Jackson began to drift backward down the left hashes and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson started to inch forward on the right side. At the time of the snap, Jackson is 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and just outside the left hash, shaded towards Evans side. Houston-Carson comes up into the box and then sprints over to the right flat to cover Howard, who gives a quick chip to edge rusher Sam Kamara and then releases on a shallow route.
That leaves Jackson as the single deep safety and while Brady's glance at Grayson doesn't draw him to his right it does keep him in the same spot right outside the left hashes as he drifts backward. At the time of Brady's throw to Evans, Jackson is still in almost the exact spot, horizontally, as he was at the snap, and he is 17.07 yards away from the receiver. At the moment of the catch he is still 8.85 yards away and now Evans has passed him vertically.
Brady takes 3.20 seconds to let go of the ball, which is longer than his average this season. The pass will travel 48.2 yards of air distance and arrive at Evans 2.4 seconds after it is released, none of which gives Jackson a chance to be a factor. However, Johnson maintains impressively tight coverage; he's only 0.9 yards separated from Evans at the time of the throw and 0.7 yards when the ball arrives. As such, Brady has to make an almost perfect throw and NFL Next Gen Stats does not give the play a high chance of succeeding. The completion probability at the time of the release is just 30.6%.
Of course, Brady's throw is perfect and Evans makes the catch for his longest reception of the season so far. Brady decides to go right back to Evans on the resulting first-and-goal from the two and the two work the back-shoulder fade to perfection. Brady throws a dart at Evans even though the receiver has only 1.7 yards of separation at the release and 0.3 yards (or about a foot) of separation at the ball's arrival. Evans and Johnson were basically in total contact at the catch but Evans had his body between the defender and the ball and was able to make a great spinning catch.
Evans has run 281 routes so far this season, second in the NFL only to Godwin, who has 290. Of all those routes, this back-breaking play just before halftime was the third deepest he has run when targeted, and it had the most air yards of any pass that's been completed to him in 2021. Brady may have enjoyed a lot of short fields and red zone plays in the rout of the Bears, but it was the one time he and Evans decided to air it out that essentially put the game away.