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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pro Bowl WR Mike Evans: I Have a Lot More to Accomplish

Already the most prolific offensive player in franchise history, four-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans plans to keep chasing records and rings as the Buccaneers move into the post-Brady era

Mike Pro Bowl

Mike Evans has only one regret about catching Tom Brady's 710th and final touchdown pass, and that's that it was Brady's final one.

Brady's last six-point strike was a thing of beauty and a clutch play by both him and Evans. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailing the Los Angeles Rams, 27-13, with less than four minutes left to play in a Divisional Playoff contest, Brady looked left for a long beat before turning to his right and launching a perfectly-arced deep ball to Evans on the right sideline. Evans caught it in stride as he separated from Jalen Ramsey and loped the last few yards into the end zone. The Bucs would then get the ball back and tie the game at 27-27 to complete a stunning 24-point comeback, but the Rams used the remaining 42 seconds in regulation to drive for the game's winning field goal. Brady retired nine days later.

Evans, of course, like the rest of his teammates wishes the magical two-year ride with Brady wasn't coming to an end. At the age of 44, Brady led the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes and will probably finish in the top two in the MVP voting. It's fairly clear he would have been effective in 2022 had he chosen to play one more season. Evans just needs that last catch to know Brady still has it.

"I didn't want it to be his last touchdown pass," said Evans. "That was a great ball by him."

Evans and Brady would have had one more chance to hook up in the end zone in the 2022 Pro Bowl, as both were selected, but Brady wasn't going to play due to shoulder aggravation even before he announced his retirement on Tuesday. Those two were part of the Bucs' nine-man all-star contingent, which matches the most selections for the team in a single season. This is the fourth Pro Bowl selection for him and he still enjoys the experience, particularly because five of his fellow Buccaneers at the game are there for the first time.

"It's a good experience," said Evans. "I'm glad I get to see my teammates here – they've worked so hard for this. It's an opportunity to come out here and be with them, and celebrate a good season. It's not what we wanted, but it's still a blessing to be an all-star."

Brady is almost universally regarded as the greatest player in NFL history, given the absurd weight of has accomplishments over 22 seasons, and thus logically most would regard him as the best player whose career included a stop in Tampa. But it is equally hard to argue against Evans as the most accomplished offensive player in franchise history. Brady did not retire as the Buccaneers' all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes, wins as a starter or even Super Bowl victories (though he did tie for the lead in that last category and got absurdly close to some of the others in such a short time). Meanwhile, Evans is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in virtually every receiving category, plus overall touchdowns, and he'll quickly overtake James Wilder for most yards from scrimmage next season.

He also has a Super Bowl ring, as the Buccaneers won it all in 2020 after Brady's arrival. He's the first player in league history to open a career with eight straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and one of only six to do it in eight or more consecutive seasons at any points in their careers. Four of the other five are in the Hall of Fame and the fifth, Torry Holt, is a finalist for enshrinement this year. Brady didn't need to accomplish anything more to be the G.O.A.T, and Evans may already have a Hall of Fame résumé. It's certainly one of the best careers in Buccaneers history. But the ninth-year receiver is far from finished chasing down records and rings. He is, it should be noted, still only 28 years old.

"There's a lot of things for me to accomplish still," said Evans. "I said since I was a young player, I'm chasing not just Bucs records but NFL records. I'm trying to get another ring. It's a great feeling to be a Super Bowl champion. That's what we work for every year and that's what I'm going to continue to do."

The past two years have certainly helped Evans in his chase. He gained 2,041 yards while playing with Brady and caught 31 touchdown passes, playoffs included. He tied the franchise record for touchdowns in a season with 13 in 2020 and then broke it with 14 this past season. It's a two-year stretch that Evans will always look upon fondly, even as he prepares to move on to new goals.

"It's been absolutely special," he said. "The first six years of my career, there were a lot of lowlights. These past two years have been the best, absolutely the best. I'm very appreciative and thankful that I was able to experience that and play with guys like Tom and Gronk. It was special. But we still have a very talented roster, one of the most talented rosters in the league even though Tom retired. We've got to pick up where he left off."

Just like Brady put his NFL passing records so far above the numbers for any non-retired quarterback that they likely won't be challenged for decades, Evans is likely to make it hard on any Buccaneer receiver following in his path to approach his records. In the process, he'll make his argument for Canton inclusion even stronger, though that's not something he's currently concerned about.

"In this game, you've just get to build your resume as best as possible and when it's all said and done they'll have the debate of whether you should be in or not," he said.

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