Through the first six games of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2019 season, Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans has 27 receptions for 464 yards and four touchdowns. At times, it might seem like Evans hasn't truly found a groove yet, in part because that six-week stretch included the first catch-free game of his career, plus another one in which he had just 28 yards.
The numbers suggest otherwise, however. Evans's current totals represent his third-most yards through the first six games of any of his six NFL seasons so far. He's only had more than four touchdowns at this point once before, and his current averages of 17.19 yards per catch and 8.44 yards per target are the best and second-best marks of his career through the first six games of a season. Evans is on pace for 1,273 yards, which if reached would allow him to continue his amazing streak and join Randy Moss as the only players in league history to open their careers with six straight 1,000-yard campaigns.
It is possible, too, that Evans' continued excellence has been overshadowed a bit by the stunning emergence of third-year teammate Chris Godwin, who ranks second in the NFL with 662 yards and who has scored six touchdowns of his own. Godwin is deserving of all the attention in his breakout season – and Evans's presence is almost certainly making it happen – but there's nothing at all wrong with Evans's production.
But he wants more.
The Buccaneers just returned to the practice field on Friday after nearly a week to rest and recuperate during their bye. Evans used that time well, putting him in position to attack the final 10 weeks of the season.
"I was able to reset, mentally and physically, get my body healed up," he said. "I feel close to 100 percent; I feel real good. I'm excited to go out there and play and get back on track. Hopefully we'll get a win this week and that will jump-start where we're trying to go."
Evans's most recent outing was a nine-catch, 96-yard performance in the Bucs' loss to Carolina in London before the bye. He nearly had a 10th grab late in the fourth quarter when he got past his defender deep down the left sideline but couldn't quite haul in Jameis Winston's nice, arcing pass. Had Evans held on, he likely would have added a 55-yard touchdown to his ledger. It wasn't necessarily an easy play, but it's probably the sort of moment he's talking about when he mentions upping his game. Evans' catch rate – receptions divided by targets, the latter of which can occasionally be a misleading statistic – is 49.1%, down from 72.7% at this point last season.
"There's plays that I need to make and plays I will make in the future, plays I'm definitely capable of making," he said. I will be making those plays."
The Buccaneers hope to get to 3-4 with a win at Tennessee on Sunday, after which they'll have one more road game at Seattle before settling in for five home games in eight weeks to finish the regular season. If they are going to make a run during the second half of the season, it will almost certainly take strong performances from that potentially explosive offensive trio of Evans, Godwin and Winston. That means the Bucs need more out of Winston going forward, too…or perhaps better put they need less of the turnover issues that plagued the quarterback in the Bucs' last outing.
Winston got a chance to reset during the bye week, too, and Head Coach Bruce Arians has liked what he's seen so far since the team returned to the field.
"He’s come out just like it’s water off of his back," said Arians. "I like that about him. It’s not like he’s sitting around sulking or hesitant in any way. He had a really good two practices, so I think he’ll play really well."
Winston has bounced back quickly from his rougher games in the past, even earlier this year when he followed a three-pick opener against San Francisco with a four-game stretch in which he had a 10-2 TD-INT ratio and a combined passer rating of 111.6. He also shook off a shaky first half to last season to perform well down the stretch, with an 11-3 TD-INT ratio in six starts after regaining his job from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Winston says he has no choice but to bounce back immediately once again.
"We've just got to," he said. "We're going to have good games, we're going to have bad games. The only thing is, when you have bad games you've got to hope that you won it. This is just a key game to us getting back, coming back from the bye week, getting back together as a team, building on the positives we had from the first six weeks and going out there and executing."
Evans wasn't the only one feeling good after the week off. He said his teammates looked as if they had "extra juice" on the practice field on Wednesday. And while he "absolutely" expects Winston to come back with a strong outing in Nashville, Evans said it takes more than the quarterback to turn things around.
"I expect the same from everybody that's been playing poorly," he said. "It's on us to bounce back and we can do that. We have a really talented team. We have a lot of promise and we have 10 games left – people keep forgetting that. There's a long season ahead of us and we're going to take every week, prepare, and I think we can do something."