By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida – Bucs Reporter
Tampa Bay’s depth on both sides of the ball proved critical in win against Atlanta
Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans made NFL history on Sunday. He broke the league record for the most consecutive seasons with 1,000+ receiving yards since career start. Evans passed Randy Moss and now leads the NFL with seven consecutive seasons.
He needed 40 yards to break the record and Evans picked up 46 yards against Atlanta in the first quarter. As Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich said last week, “anytime you can be one of one of anything . . . that’s a unique thing, that just shows you how good of a football player he is.” After the game, Head Coach Bruce Arians said “it means the world for him to get that record.”
Unfortunately, after breaking the record, Evans tragically suffered a non-contact injury on the very next play. Evans hyperextended his left knee in the end zone, causing him to drop a touchdown pass and was out the rest of the game. He was taken to the hospital for an MRI and it has been reported there was no structural damage. The Bucs are unsure whether they will have the veteran pro-bowl receiver in the playoffs next week.
Arians said, “the turf was really slick in the end zones and just a freak thing. Knock on wood we don’t think there is any serious damage, we will know more in the next 24 hours.”
In Evans’ absence, wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown were forced to step up and they did so seamlessly. Both receivers were clearly playing with determination and heart, as they helped lead the Bucs to a win.
Godwin had two touchdowns and put up 133 yards, including a 47-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Brown had his best performance since joining the team halfway through the season, completing 11 receptions for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Bucs signed Brown at the end October due to a number of injuries affecting their receiving team early in the season. They faced some criticism following the acquisition, primarily because of Brown’s turbulent past on the field and personal matters off the field. Strictly looking at his performance on the field, there is no denying Brown has found his rhythm on the offense and stepped up on Sunday when it mattered the most.
Defensively, the Bucs also faced gaps in key positions due to NFL Covid-19 protocols. Linebackers Shaq Barrett and Devin White and defensive lineman Steve McLendon were dropped off the active roster for week 17.
This provided an opportunity for players to fill in on Sunday, including inside linebacker Kevin Minter, who was signed in 2018 as a free agent. Minter came away with 8 tackles and one pass defended, and was key to a third down stop in the fourth quarter.
Arians said, “Kevin Minter I thought was outstanding . . . Minter is a solid player and he’s been one for a long time.” After the game, Minter explained his readiness saying, “Coach always talks about ‘next man up’, and that’s something we live by in this locker room . . . and I’ll be damned if I’d be the one to let my team down.”
Minter also said that after Mike Evans went down injured in the first quarter the team was even more motivated to win. He said, “we all looked at each other like ‘let’s go, let’s do this” adding, “we finished this thing for 13 [Mike Evans].”
With the injured cornerback Carlton Davis still out, the Bucs also looked to cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting who had a solid performance throughout the game including six total tackles. Murphy-Bunting also forced a fumble in the fourth quarter when he stripped the ball and recovered it for Tampa Bay. Brady got the ball back and finished the possession with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown to lock in a 17-point lead.
Offensively, the Bucs played a solid, consistent game of football and came away with 5 touchdowns and 485 yards of total offense. They also improved on third down efficiency which has been a focus for the team all season, particularly in the last half of 2020.
With depth on both sides of the ball, the Bucs were able to fill gaps where they needed to and still have a dominate performance securing the fifth spot in the NFC playoff standings. As the five seed, they will take on the winner of the NFC East on the road next weekend.
Whether the Bucs will be able to hold onto their momentum coming off a 4-game winning streak against tougher opponents in the playoffs remains to be seen.