Jameis Winston-to-Mike Evans has been one of the NFL's most prolific passing connections since 2015, and that was on display in the first quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' win over Indianapolis on Sunday. However, it's possible that neither end of that connection will be on the field the next time the Buccaneers play.
Winston hit Evans on a 61-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter on Sunday, giving the Bucs a temporary 14-10 lead in their eventual 38-35 win. However, Evans pulled up with a hamstring injury as he was reaching the end zone. Later, Winston was taken in for an X-ray on his right thumb just after halftime; he missed one series but returned to lead the Bucs to 17 unanswered points for the victory.
Immediately after the game, Head Coach Bruce Arians said Evans' hamstring was "not good," and he wasn't much more optimistic on Monday during his day-after-game press conference, in terms of the Bucs' next game. However, Arians did note that Evans returned from a similar injury relatively quickly during spring practices.
"He was a quick healer when he had it in the spring, [but] I would be very doubtful for this week."
Winston's ability to return to the game and played well seemed to ease some concerns over his throwing hand, but he had swelling on Monday and was scheduled to get a "second opinion" on the injury.
"It's swollen, but we've got to get a hand specialist involved to see the long-term future," said Arians.
Winston is second in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes, while Evans ranks third in receiving yards and is tied for fourth in touchdown receptions. If Winston can't play, the Buccaneers would turn to sixth-year veteran Ryan Griffin, who actually saw the first regular-season action of his career on Sunday during that one drive Winston missed. Griffin completed two of four passes for 18 yards on a drive that ended in a punt.
If Winston is unavailable for the Bucs' Week 15 game in Detroit, first-year quarterback Chad Kanoff would likely be promoted from the practice squad, where he has spent the past eight weeks. A former Princeton standout, Kanoff was coincidentally on the Lions' practice squad earlier this season. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in Arizona last year and split his rookie season between the practice squad and the active roster, though he did not see any regular-season game action.
The Buccaneers would be down to four receivers if Evans can't play in Detroit, and that's only if rookie Scotty Miller can return from the hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two games. The Buccaneers would miss Evans sorely if he is unavailable but they did manage to put up another 344 receiving yards after he left Sunday's game. Justin Watson (five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown) and Breshad Perriman (3-70-1) filled the void in the receiving corps and tight end O.J. Howard also caught four passes for 73 yards.
Whoever is under center in Detroit could also be playing without the Bucs' usual blindside defender, as Donovan Smith is dealing with knee and ankle injuries that caused him to miss five plays in Sunday's game. Those are the first five offensive snaps Smith has sat out all season, and he also has a streak of 77 straight starts on the line, as he has opened every contest since being drafted in the second round in 2015.
Arians said that he didn't expect Smith to practice much this week but hopes he'll be ready by Sunday. In addition, Arians indicated that the Bucs' offensive line could get back right guard Alex Cappa, who missed the Week 14 game with an elbow injury. Of course, even with those two the Buccaneers' third-ranked offense would look far less frightening without its Winston-to-Evans connection.
"Hopefully we can get [Smith] back out there Friday with a knee and an ankle," said Arians. "Hopefully we can get Alex Cappa back. But, other than those two, Jameis and Mike are the two big ones."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 14 matchup against Indianapolis.