With Mike Evans neutralized, other receivers forced to step up
Eduardo Encina, Tampa Bay Times, published 5 November 2018

The Bucs' passing attack has plenty of weapons, but the team's offense begins with getting the ball in receiver Mike Evans' hands. Evans had just one reception on 10 targets in the Bucs' 42-28 loss to the Carolina Panthers, marking just the third time in 69 professional games that Evans has been held to one or fewer receptions.

Evans was held without a catch in the first half on six targets, and his only reception of the game was a 16-yard gain five minutes into the second half. "They did a good job on Mike today," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "They were doubling Mike some. They were pressing Mike a lot."

With Evans neutralized, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had to rely on receiver Adam Humphries, who caught all eight of his targets for 82 yards and his first career two-touchdown game, and tight end O.J. Howard, who caught four balls for 53 yards and two scores.

"I thought they had a nice scheme going for Mike," Fitzpatrick said. "And there is some stuff, some throws that maybe I could have done a better job with placement or moving on with the progression, but anytime Mike is one-on-one, we are going to try to give him the ball. We had some other guys step up, too. O.J. did some good stuff for us in the second half. Adam, same thing."

Evans entered the day averaging 110 receiving yards a game and was coming off a 179-yard receiving game at Cincinnati last week. So it was clear the Panthers focused on stopping him. Panthers cornerback James Bradberry drew Evans for most of the game and covered him well in man coverage. "As solid as it gets," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Bradberry's game.

Fitzpatrick also struggled to connect with Evans early, overthrowing him twice, including one pass that was intercepted by Eric Reid and led to Carolina's first score. Fitzpatrick and Evans have worked well together this season. Evans had two 100-yard games with Fitzpatrick at quarterback early in the season a 147-yard game at New Orleans and a 137-yard game at home against the Steelers.

And when Fitzpatrick entered last week's game in the fourth quarter, he hit Evans for a 72-yard touchdown reception while leading the Bucs back from a 18-point deficit. "We trust Mike to win on whatever his routes are," Humphries said. "And we've got D-Jack, Chris, O.J. and Cam. We've got a lot of playmakers and that's just the quarterback going through his progression. First guy's not open, check it down, and we were able to get some good plays on those checkdowns today."