Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans Plans to Finish Season Strong

Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, already one of the NFL's best wide receivers, has come back from his one-game suspension with the goal of proving himself all over again in the next seven weeks

Mike Evans is one of only three players in NFL history who topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. In doing so, he also increased his yardage total from each year to the next. While Evans may still extend his streak of 1,000-yard seasons – he's on pace to hit it almost exactly – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' star wideout will have a hard time setting a career high for a fourth straight year.

Part of the reason for that is the one-game suspension he just served for his sideline hit on New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore in Week Nine. However, even before that week away from the game he had hit a minor mid-season lull, with a total of six catches for 63 yards and no touchdowns in Buccaneer losses to Carolina and New Orleans. Now that he's back, he's hoping to finish the season on a hot streak.

"I've been okay," said Evans when asked to evaluate his 2017 season. "I'm not as good as last year, like I had hoped, but I've got seven more games to prove myself. I've been getting open, but not as much as I should be. Hopefully I can fix that these last seven weeks."

A look at the Dolphins' projected starters, according to the team's website.

Evans is probably being a little harsher of a self-critic than is warranted. Before those two low-output games against the Panthers and Saints – two games in which the offense as a whole took a sudden dive, possibly due to Jameis Winston's shoulder injury – Evans was actually producing almost exactly at his career per-game averages. From 2014-16, he put an average per-game stat line of 5.2 receptions for 78.8 yards and 0.59 touchdowns. Through the first six games of 2017, his average line was 5.7 catches for 78.2 yards and 0.67 touchdowns.

Of course, in his question to continue improving, Evans isn't comparing his current season to the balance that came before it but to 2016, his best year so far. In that one, Evans averaged 6.0 receptions, 82.6 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game. If he can simply match that per-game output for the final seven weeks he would end up with 82 receptions for 1028 yards and nine touchdowns.

Evans has shown no signs of fading in the second halves of seasons through his young career. This is how his per-game numbers compare from the combined first eight games of each year (including 2017) to the combined last eight games of each year:

GP

Rec./G

Yards/G

Y/R

TD/G

Games 1-8

30

5.3

75.8

14.30

0.57

Games 9-16

24

5.0

76.5

15.43

0.58

Last year, Evans did see his numbers drop a bit in the second half of the season, but in 2015 they actually rose noticeably after the first half. That year was probably more comparable to this one, in that it contained more adversity, in the form of a string of dropped passes and some occasions in which he lost his temper with game officials. He made a point of correcting both problems and had a fantastic 2016 season. He is somewhat in the same situation now, though he doesn't believe his mistake in New Orleans is indicative of where he is as a player.

"I made a boneheaded play," said Evans. "I shouldn't have [done] it. There's things I've got to fix, and I think that's the difference for me. I'll probably never do anything like that again. I've got to play more calm. I like playing with passion and effort, but I've got to be smarter."

Wide receiver Adam Humphries thinks his teammate has steadily improved in the last two years under the tutelage of Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach Todd Monken. Only T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones have more receiving yards than Evans since the start of 2016, and only the Green Bay duo of Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams have more touchdown catches.

"I think Coach Monk has done a really good job with him," said Humphries. "The mental game – obviously my first year he had a lot of penalties where he would freak out at a ref, but now he's staying calm."

The Buccaneers won their game without Evans, 15-10, over the Jets. He watched it from a couch in his home in Texas and called the effort inspiring. However, Tampa Bay's offense still didn't pull out of its little mid-season slide, recording just 271 yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick played well enough in Winston's absence to get the win but the Bucs have more problems on offense, including a continued inability to run the football with any consistency.

The chances of the offense returning to its prolific ways of the first six games would be a lot smaller with Evans out for more than one game. His teammates know how much his mere presence does to create opportunities for everyone around him.

"Anytime Mike's not there, it definitely makes it harder for us," said tight end Cam Brate, who caught just one pass for 10 yards against the Jets. "When Mike's out there, they're going to have to double-team Mike, and that leaves a lot of one-on-one matchups for everyone else. Not having Mike out there probably made things harder for me but probably opened some things up for some other guys. I'm happy to have Mike back; hopefully it takes attention away from me."

Evans has gotten hot before. As a rookie, he torched Buccaneer opponents for 458 yards and five touchdowns in one three-game midseason stretch. In 2015 he ran up more than 125 yards three times in a four-game run in October and November. Last year, he had a seven-game streak in which he accounted for 660 yards and seven touchdowns.

Could another such streak be looming for Evans in the seven weeks ahead? That's the goal, and he's back from his week off with fresh legs and a desire to hit the ground running.

"I'm excited to go out there and practice, have a great week of preparation and hopefully get a 'W' this week," said Evans.

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