Wide receiver Mike Evans turned in a very nice performance in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season-opening win at Minnesota a week ago, leading his team with six catches for 66 yards and catching the 82nd touchdown pass of his career. His team held on for an encouraging road win and he displayed some chemistry with new starting quarterback Baker Mayfield.
It was a good day. As Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales pointed out later in the week, it could have been a "huge day" for Evans. A well-run slant on another play nearly resulted in another touchdown but he didn't quite haul it in, and a deep shot down the sideline in the first half nearly hit as well. It was still clear that he is a key cog in the new offense that Canales has installed.
There are no caveats about Evans's second outing in that Canales offense. It was, in a word, huge. In a 27-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Evans delighted the home crowd with six catches for 171 yards and another score. That ranks as the eighth-highest single-game yardage total in his illustrious career. He set up one of the Bucs' two offensive touchdowns with a 70-yard catch-and-run and then scored the second one on a third-down go route.
All in all, it's a very positive early referendum on the Bucs' new offense and how Evans fits into it.
"You work your tail off and you hope that it shows up when the games happen," said Evans, who dating back to last season has five touchdown catches in the last three regular-season games he's played. "That's when it matters. Hopefully we can continue to build on our connection, the offense can continue to be more explosive and take care of the ball, and help us win more games."
During training camp, as everyone from the starting quarterback to the ninth offensive lineman worked hard trying to get Canales's offense ready to go for the start of the season, Evans stood out on a nearly daily basis. He reported feeling energized by the new scheme, believing it was going to put him in a lot of new situations and give him a chance to break out all of his talents. Sunday's game against Chicago was a case in point.
"I've always done everything [on offense] in the past, but not as much," he said. "So today I was in the slot a lot, got some opportunities to go down the field. So there using everything that I can do."
Evans' first big play of the game was certainly an example of something relatively new. On first down from the Bucs' 23, Mayfield hit Evans about 20 yards downfield over a falling Bears defender. He turned around and saw two more Jets defenders behind him but was able to race diagonally to his right and get all the way down to the Jets' seven before he was run out of bounds. The 70-yard gain was the second-longest of his career and the Bucs' longest completion since 2019, and unlike most of his long catches it was not a matter of him hauling in the ball in stride while loping down the sideline. Evans would have liked to have made it seven more yards, but running back Rachaad White was able to punch it in three plays later.
"It was a hot one, man," said Evans with a grin after a game in which the "feels-like" temperature at kickoff was 103 degrees. "It was a hot one. I thought I could get there; I was trying to pick my knees up and get there, but I couldn't get there. But Rachaad punched it in for us, so that was good."
Mayfield and Evans hooked up again on a big play midway through the third quarter. Evans called it a broken play, and Mayfield was able to lob it to him on the left sideline. Evans made the leaping catch and then somehow spun over a Bears defender while barely staying inbounds, breaking free for a 36-yard gain. He also finished that drive with his 32-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-14 after Mayfield had recovered a fumble on second down by tight end David Wells.
Mayfield threw off his back foot as he leaned backwards against an encroaching pass rush on the touchdown pass, but he knew Evans had beaten his man and he put the ball on the money two yards deep into the end zone. Mayfield already understands that he can take that kind of chance with Evans at the other end.
"They're playing an off-coverage zone look, looking like they're going to double-team him," he said. "On the snap, the safety rolls to the middle of the field, and Mike's the best go-ball runner against off-coverage in the league. He closes that gap, that space, and then he accelerates after that. So it's just giving him a chance. Mike, he's so special, and he's doing hard work."
Or, as Evans described it: "It was a third-and-long. We had fumbled the ball on a…second-and-short. Baker made a good play getting back on the ball, and then we called a shot play. I just ran an inside-go, Baker threw a good ball and I caught it."
Those two are quickly learning to love each other's style of play. That connection began in August and it looks like it's heating up in the regular season. Evans may be in his 10th season now, but Evans is on an admittedly very early pace for the best yardage total of his career. Even if that torrid pace isn't quite maintained from week to week, it's clearly a good start for the quarterback and his new number-one receiver.
"Me and Baker had a really good camp together," said Evans. "He made some plays today and he found me a lot. Offensively, we're still learning the offense together. We're out there just going through it together and learning. Hopefully midseason we're really rolling."