Mike Evans restores order, Bucs offense after chaotic week
The consummate team guy paused momentarily to ponder his day's work. Shortly after breaking two of his records during the Bucs' 41-17 rout of the Panthers on Sunday, receiver Mike Evans was asked which was more meaningful: his franchise-best 14 receiving touchdowns in a season (including two Sunday) or his NFL-record eighth consecutive 1,000-yard-receiving season to start a career.

"That's a good question," Evans said. "I like both. I'll take the history, the NFL history. Eight straight 1,000-yard seasons to start a career, that's one of one."

The Bucs needed no NFL benchmark to validate Evans' quality. For the better part of the past decade, the 6-foot-5 team captain - the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award the past three seasons - steadily has reminded observers he is one of one. On Sunday, with his team mired in an unsightly offensive malaise, Evans did so again.

After three mostly futile first-half possessions that tight end Rob Gronkowski described as "crap," Evans helped flick the offensive switch. In the second quarter, his 37-yard catch-and-run from Tom Brady on third and 10 - in which he broke at least one tackle - sparked a 92-yard scoring drive that gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead.

"He started that; he sparked us," Gronkowski said. "Mike with that catch and run, just making some guys miss on the run aspect of it, it got us fired up, it got us going, and that's what we needed."

By game's end, he had six catches for 89 yards along with the two touchdowns and perhaps another degree of admiration from his peers. Standing in stark relief to Antonio Brown's scorched-earth sound bites is Evans, who had not been Brady's most frequented target in a game since the Nov. 22 win against the Giants.

Yet intensity remains the only brooding part about him, and his latest 1,000-yard season may be among his quietest. "He's the guy, and he's been very, very unselfish this year," coach Bruce Arians said.

"That's what makes our receiver room so special, the way Mike leads that room and Chris (Godwin) leads that room. It's all about winning, and I'm just happy. I knew (Evans would) get his 1,000 (yards), but he's a big-time player, big-time person."

The only drama Evans manufactured Sunday had a humerus ending. On the short reception that clinched 1,000 yards, Evans hit his right funny bone and remained on the turf. The scene sparked images of last January, when he hyperextended a knee in the end zone against the Falcons moments after reaching 1,000 yards.

"I was like, ‘Oh man, it's so unfortunate,' " he said. "But then my hand went a little numb, and the sense came back. I'm just happy to be in the NFL and to break records and break my own record. It's a true blessing, and I don't take it for granted. I'm just going to come in each year and work my tail off and try to be the best I can be."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Times, published 10 January 2022