The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, 24-21, but not before rallying with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie it at 21-21. Rookie tight end O.J. Howard notched the first of those two scores on a two-yard catch on third-and-goal on the third play of the final period.
That was the fifth touchdown catch of Howard's impressive debut season. That total ties the team's record for a rookie tight end and also ties for fifth in franchise history among all rookies, regardless of position.
Most Touchdown Receptions, Rookie, Buccaneers History
Howard is now second among all Buccaneers in touchdowns in 2017, one behind fellow tight end Cameron Brate. Brate is tied for sixth among all NFL tight ends with his six TD receptions, while Howard is tied for eighth. The Buccaneers are the only team in the NFL to boast two tight ends with at least five touchdowns each. Luke Stocker, who was released on November 28, also had one touchdown catch this season, meaning the Buccaneers have a total of 12 scores from the tight end position. Only Seattle, with 13, has more so far this year.
Most Combined Touchdown Receptions, Tight End Position, NFL Teams, 2017
|**Team**||**TD Recs.**||**Tight Ends**|
|SEA||13||J. Graham (9), L. Willson (3), N. Vannett (1)|
|TB||11||C. Brate (6), O. Howard (5), L. Stocker (1)|
|PHI||11||Z. Ertz (7), T. Burton (4), B. Celek (1)|
|KC||8||T. Kelce (7), D. Harris (1)|
|MIN||8||K. Rudolph (7), D. Morgan (1)|
|NE||8||R. Gronkowski (7), D. Allen (1)|
|NYG||8||E. Engram (6), R. Ellison (2)|
Howard caught four passes in Sunday's game for 54 yards, pushing his season totals to 402 yards on 25 receptions. That's an average of 16.1 yards per catch, which is the best mark among all NFL tight ends with at least 20 receptions this season.
Most Yards Per Catch, NFL Tight Ends, 2017 (minimum 20 receptions)
Howard was actually the Buccaneers' second-leading pass-catcher on Sunday against the Lions. Rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin led the way with five receptions for 68, with both totals exactly matching the career highs he had set in Week 10 against the New York Jets. Howard was the Buccaneers' first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft; Godwin was the first of two third-round picks the team made in that draft.
Godwin and Howard are just the sixth pair of Buccaneer rookies to each record 50-plus receiving yards in the same game.
|**Date**||**Opp.**||**Rookie #1**||**Yards**||**Rookie #2**||**Yards**|
|12/6/87||NO||Mark Carrier||212||Bruce Hill||73|
|11/10/96||OAK||Mike Alstott||67||Karl Williams||63|
|9/21/97||MIA||Warrick Dunn||106||Reidel Anthony||50|
|10/31/10||AZ||Mike Williams||105||Arrelious Benn||53|
|10/12/14||BAL||A. Seferian-Jenkins||58||Mike Evans||55|
|12/10/17||DET||Chris Godwin||68||O.J. Howard||54|
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 14 matchup with the Lions
The second of the Buccaneers' two fourth-quarter touchdowns went to an unlikely target: reserve offensive tackle Leonard Wester. The Buccaneers lined up in a jumbo package on first and goal from the two, with multiple tight ends, two backs and Wester as a tackle-eligible extra blocker on the end of the line. Wester released and floated wide open to the end zone, and Winston easily hit him for the score. Wester is the first Buccaneer offensive lineman to catch a touchdown pass since Nov. 11, 2013, when Donald Penn did it against Miami.
Winston's two touchdown passes on Sunday gave him 64 in his young career, putting him into a tie for fifth-place in team history with Brad Johnson. Winston needs just seven more to pass Trent Dilfer (70), 10 more to pass Doug Williams (73), 14 more to pass Vinny Testaverde (77) and 17 more to supplant Josh Freeman (80) at the top of the list.
Winston's 64 touchdown passes are also tied for the ninth most in NFL history in a player's first three seasons. With three games left to play, Winston is a good bet to move up several more spots on that list.
Most Touchdown Passes, Player's First Three Seasons, NFL History
The Buccaneers' first touchdown in Sunday's game was recorded by Doug Martin on a one-yard run in the first quarter. That marked Martin's 26th career rushing touchdown and his 28th touchdown overall. Martin is now tied for sixth in franchise history in total touchdowns.
Most Touchdowns, Buccaneers History
|Warrick Dunn||RB||1997-2001; 08||28|
WR Mike Evans is just ahead of Martin on the above list. He did not add to his touchdown total during a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon. However, despite catching just two passes for 25 yards, Evans did move up a spot on two impressive lists thanks to his updated career total of 4,338 receiving yards.
First, Evans passed Falcon great Julio Jones for 10th place on the list of players with the most receiving yards in their respective first four NFL seasons. Evans has a realistic shot to move up three or four more spots on that list over the final three weeks of the 2017 seasons.
Second, Evans passed his former teammate, Vincent Jackson, to move into third place on the Buccaneers' career receiving yardage chart.
Winston, Godwin, Howard, Martin and Evans all helped the Buccaneers record exactly 400 net yards of offense against the Lions. Five giveaways kept that yardage total from translating into more points, unfortunately, but the Buccaneers moved the ball well all afternoon, recording 28 first downs. That first down total was just two shy of the franchise single-season record and it ties for the team's fifth-highest mark ever.
Overall, Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NFL with 282 first downs in 2017. That's an average of 21.6 first downs per game; if the Buccaneers maintain that pace for three more weeks they will finish the season with 347 first downs, which would be a new franchise single-season record. The Buccaneers' current record in that category is 344 first downs in 1984.
The 1984 team, powered by a then-NFL record 407 carries by running back James Wilder, got 114 of its first downs on the ground. The 2017 team has been more likely to move the chains via the pass, with a total of 197 passing first downs that leads the NFL.
Most Passing First Downs, NFL, 2017
- Tampa Bay: 197
- New England: 184
- Pittsburgh: 182
- L.A. Chargers: 180
- Detroit: 176
The Buccaneers are likely to break their single-season record in passing first downs, as their current mark is already third on the list with three games to go. It would mark the third straight season that the team has set a new high in passing first downs.
Most Passing First Downs, Single Season, Buccaneers History
- 2016: 220
- 2015: 201
- 2017: 197
- 2003: 190
- 2001: 189
Evans continues to be one of the NFL's best at producing first downs in the passing game. He has moved the chains on 44 of his 55 receptions this season, or 80.0% of his total catches. That ranks fifth in the NFL; Evans and New England tight end Rob Gronkowski are the only players in the NFL with at least 50 catches and an 80% first-down rate or better.
On third downs, Mike Evans is practically automatic in moving the chains when he catches a pass. In fact, over the last two seasons, every single one of his 38 catches on third down has resulted in a first down. He is the only player who can claim a 100% first-down conversion rate on third-down receptions in that span (minimum 10 third-down catches). Since he entered the NFL in 2014, Evans has the best rate in that category among all players.
Highest Percentage of Third-Down Catches Resulting in a First Down, NFL, 2014-17