Second-year wide receiver Scotty Miller had his most productive day as a pro in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season-opening game in New Orleans, but the most eye-opening number on his stat line was '6.'
That's the number of times Miller was targeted by quarterback Tom Brady in the Buccaneers' 34-23 loss, which was the same number of looks that starting tight end O.J. Howard got and just one fewer than what was afforded wide receiver Chris Godwin. As a reference, Godwin was targeted 121 times last year as the top producer in the league's number-one passing attack; Miller had 26 balls thrown his way.
Seems like there might be something to this "chemistry" we've been hearing about between Brady and Miller.
"It was nice to see it unfold on Sunday," said Miller, who was one of the pass-catchers who attended the Brady-organized workouts away from team headquarters over the summer. "I put in so much work this offseason and then we put in so much work together as far as me and Tom and all the skill guys together. To see it pay off was nice and that's just the mindset we have. We had put in so much work, so what's different today than what we've been doing the last three or four months?"
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What's different in 2020 is that Miller was an undersized sixth-round draft pick just getting his feet wet in limited action last year, though his top-end speed was already evident. Now he's a legitimate third receiver on a team blessed with the best starting duo in the league – Godwin and Mike Evans – and he's very much an important part of the offense. Miller played 61% of the team's offensive snaps in the opener.
What's also different is that the G.O.A.T is now in a Buccaneers uniform, and he's a Scotty Miller fan. Brady told the FOX broadcasting team prior to Sunday's game that, while most people may not know much about Miller know, they will by the end of the season. Miller didn't hear about those comments until days later, but he's clearly making sure they don't go to his head.
"I think that's pretty cool to hear that kind of stuff from the best player that's ever played this game," he said. "It's good to hear, it's cool to hear but I've just got to go make it happen every single Sunday, so at the end of the season people do know who I am. I've just got to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and that's what I'll do. Hopefully everything else comes with it."
The other numbers from Miller's big game on Sunday: five catches for 73 yards, both career highs and just shy of Godwin's team-leading six for 79. If anything, though, those stats sell Miller's efforts a bit short. He was also credited with a six-yard run on a quick screen pass that didn't go forward, and he drew a 28-yard pass-interference penalty after getting open deep late in the third quarter. Cornerback Patrick Robinson was flagged for hooking Miller's left arm, but the speedy receiver came very close to making a one-handed catch in the crook of his elbow anyway.
Add in the run and the penalty, and Miller essentially had a 100-yard day. That came on a variety of plays from quick-hitters to sideline comebackers to deep sprints, showing that he isn't just a one-trick speed pony. He also knows he's the beneficiary of being the third wheel behind Evans and Godwin.
"I think the coaches put me in a great position to be able to go out there, make plays and help the team. I really couldn't ask for anything more.
"But then again, part of the reason why I'm able to get looks is because the Saints are double-teaming Mike, double-teaming [Rob Gronkowski] and Chris. So I have to win my one-on-one matchup on the outside because sometimes that's who we've got to go to. I take pride in that. It's almost disrespect to me that they're going to leave me one-on-one, but I haven't earned their respect yet. I'm going to make sure I can win those battles every time I get them."
Miller's Week One success didn't exactly come out of nowhere. He very clearly had a great training camp, and he came to that camp with some extra muscle on his frame to complement his raw speed. Head Coach Bruce Arians wasn't surprised to see Miller take that practice-field success into the first Sunday of the season, or that Miller had earned Brady's trust.
"They worked very, very hard all summer and had a great camp together," said Arians. "It showed up in the ballgame – that's usually what happens. It happens in practice every day. We would like all three of our [wide receiver] weapons and our tight ends, so Tom distributes the ball to the guys. It's not like, 'Hey, we're throwing this one to Scotty – that's the way it is.' He has a lot of trust in, I think, all those guys."
Miller says his goal is to always be exactly where Brady expects him to be, because the 21-year veteran is going to find the holes in the defense and the open men, no matter who they are. That includes some short and intermediate routes that often didn't hit for him as a rookie. That increases his overall volume in the offense, but there's no doubt his favorite route is going deep. He said as much early in training camp. And the good news for him and the Buccaneers' offense is that his quarterback showed on multiple occasions in the opener that he has no trouble putting those deep balls in the right spot and at the right time.
"He can still sling it, absolutely," said Miller. "That was one thing – when he announced he was coming here, everyone was saying, 'He doesn't have the arm anymore.' But I found out the first day I threw with him that he still has it. He throws just as hard as anyone I've ever thrown with, still. And then his deep ball is great as well. He showcased that a little bit on Sunday and I think he will the rest of the year. I don't think we're worried about that at all with him. He's going to put the ball on the money every time."