Not only has Mike Evans not missed any of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers games in 2020 so far, he hasn't even skipped a trip to the end zone in any of the first five weeks. Evans has scored in every game this year and he's tied for the NFL lead with six touchdown receptions overall.
It hasn't exactly been easy for the last six quarters. Ever since he rolled an ankle while catching a six-yard touchdown pass right before halftime in Week Four, he has had to overcome a good amount of pain and soreness to remain a part of the Buccaneers' offense. That include a Thursday night game in Chicago in Week Five that gave him precious little time to heal up after his injury on Thursday.
The silver lining to that short week was the extra rest that followed it as the Buccaneers enjoyed a "mini-bye" over the weekend. That has helped Evans get back on the practice field this week, albeit in a limited fashion on Thursday after he sat out on Wednesday. And by Sunday, when the high-powered Green Bay Packers come to town, Evans expects to feel quite a bit closer to full strength.
"I'm definitely feeling much better than going into a Thursday night game after I rolled my ankle pretty bad," said the seventh-year receiver, who leads the Bucs with 271 receiving yards. "The time off has been helpful [and] the trainers have been doing a great job. [I] got to practice a little bit today – still some soreness, but nothing that I can't play through. I definitely
will play through it. Hopefully I come out clean this game, I'll be able to recover even more, finally be able to practice full throughout the week and do my normal routine. I'm feeling better – definitely much better than last week."
Evans might have felt a greater need to gut it out in Week Five because the Buccaneers' offense was already, well, gutted at that point. Tampa Bay played the Bears without wide receivers Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Justin Watson (chest) and were also without running back LeSean McCoy (ankle). Running back Leonard Fournette was active for the game but clearly not ready to go; he played just one snap on a kneel-down before halftime. In addition, tight end O.J. Howard was lost for the season in Week Four when he ruptured an Achilles tendon against the Chargers. Three players – Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens and Tanner Hudson – caught their first passes of the season in Week Five, out of necessity.
Apart from Howard, all of those players practice on at least a limited basis on Thursday, and Watson was a full participant. The Buccaneers are hoping that all – or at least most – of them will be at Tom Brady's disposal on Sunday. That would be quite helpful, as Brady and the Buccaneers will be trying to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the NFL's highest-scoring offense. The Packers are also likely to get their top receiver, Davante Adams, back in action after he missed the last two games.
Evans doesn't necessarily think the Buccaneers will have to win by shootout, as he's expecting Tampa Bay's second-ranked defense to have something to say about that. But he's definitely looking forward to seeing some of his buddies out on the field with him again.
"I hope they're not efficient on offense," said Evans of Rodgers and companty. "I like our defense a lot. This whole [thing] has been about penalties and beating ourselves. That's exactly what we need to not do. If we do that, we've got the playmakers, we've got guys back from injury – C.G., that's going to be huge, J-Wat, and myself getting more healthy. Leonard getting healthier, LeSean McCoy – we're getting everybody back healthy. I like where we're going as a team. We've just got to definitely eliminate the dumb penalties and the personal fouls and we'll be fine."
Indeed, as much as Evans hopes to come out of Week Six "clean" in terms of his own health, he also knows the Buccaneers have to play a much cleaner game in order to beat the Packers. The Buccaneers were penalized 11 times for 109 yards against Chicago, including seven against the offense, and another two holding flags were declined by the Bears. Those penalties killed several drives and a fumble by rookie running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn led to Chicago's go-ahead touchdown just before halftime. All of that and the Bucs lost by one point and had the ball in their possession with 73 seconds to play.
"Turnovers and penalties are the biggest reasons why teams lose in this league," said Evans. "It's not about the talent. If we can just eliminate beating ourselves – we're tough, we have a really talented roster. One of the most talented rosters in the league. We just definitely have to clean up on some of those things and be better at that."
The Packers are one of the NFL's four remaining undefeated teams, and one of two in the NFC. They were in the conference championship game last season and they've followed that up with a sizzling start to 2020, scoring 38 points per game. Green Bay is also coming off a bye week and, like the Buccaneers, getting some key players back into the mix. Every game on the schedule counts the same but beating the Packers would certainly make the Buccaneers look more like a playoff contender.
Would it be a "statement game" if the Bucs won. Evans will let others make that call.
"Well, that's just all personal preference," he said. "To me it's just a normal game. I want to be where they are. They're undefeated, so we can't do that. I definitely want to be top of the division, things like that. We know that they're a really good football team. But week-in, week-out, you can lose any given Sunday…or Thursday or Monday or Tuesday, whatever day we're playing. Any team in this league can be beat by any team. We've seen that in the past. We've just got to come with our game, eliminate the penalties and the turnovers, and I like our chances."