TAMPA — Something is different about Mike Evans. He got 5 yards behind the defense and was as alone as the goal post in the end zone on the first series against Atlanta on Sunday when Jameis Winston sailed a pass over his head, which is hard to do with a 6-foot-5 receiver.
But Evans didn't pout. The Bucs receiver eyes didn't roll into the back of his head. He didn't throw his arms up in disgust.
Evans simply jogged to the sideline, robotic, not a hint of frustration under his face mask. Even though he was targeted only one more time in the first half, Evans didn't lobby for more footballs.
"To be honest with you, at halftime when the offensive coaches were meeting I said, 'We've got to get the ball to Mike Evans more,' " coach Dirk Koetter said. "We didn't target Mike enough in the first half, we did a lot better job in the second half, that's my fault, not anybody else's. A lot of times when we game plan, we go in and we want the game plan, how we plan to attack them, and then the ball is going to go based on coverage, where it goes, how Jameis reads it.
"But sometimes when you have your superstar-type players — your big-name players — you've got to try to get the ball to them a little more and we didn't do a good enough job."
Evans finished with five catches for 99 yards, his body-contorting, over-the-shoulder-in-traffic catch for a 45-yard touchdown essentially putting the game away in the third quarter. Before his touchdown, the drive appeared stalled after Winston fired incomplete to Cameron Brate on third and 8. But cornerback Robert Alford was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Evans, who didn't retaliate.
"It kept the drive alive and we ended up scoring, so that was big time for us," Evans said.
Evans admits a year ago, he might have been baited into an altercation with Robinson.
"I'm just getting older and I'm understanding the game and I'm more experienced in the league," Evans said. "I just got married, so that's making me more mature."
Evans married Ashli Dotson in February in a lavish ceremony with 500 guests, including his 3-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, at the Corinthian in Houston. The couple honeymooned in Bora Bora and Moorea in the South Pacific.
In March, he went to work, shedding some unwanted weight that had contributed to injuries his first two pro seasons and reporting to training camp weighing 220. His focus was getting in synch with Winston, particularly on the deep ball.
"Well he's just a superstar, you know?" Winston said of Evans, one of six players to have at least 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two NFL seasons since 1970. "But when you're a superstar, you have to work like a superstar every single day, and I feel like he has been doing that. It's just at that point where Mike is either going to catch for 12,000 yards or he's going to catch for 18,000 yards. It just depends — he's going to have a great year every time, but, like with everybody, it's just being consistent.
"Like with me, from week to week, I have to be able to create opportunities for Mike. If you count all the times that I missed Mike last year, he probably would've led the NFL in yardage. That's just how talented he is."
Evans always had the talent, but now he appears to have the temperament. A year ago, he led the NFL with a dozen dropped passes, half of them coming in a loss to the Giants. According to receivers coach Todd Monken, Evans was too hard on himself and ruminated about every missed opportunity, which created a snowball effect.
"He's very competitive, very prideful," Monken said. "And so I think that there's things that weigh on him. He gets frustrated very easily, and he's gotten better at that, of staying even-keeled. Frustrated with drops, frustrated when his body breaks down, frustrated with a number of things. … He wants it to go perfect; life's not perfect. There's things in your life like drops, things in your personal life — your body not feeling right. You've got to be able to move on."
Monken gave Evans a book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff, which became his playbook on and off the field.
"I did try to be a perfectionist back then but now I've just got to let things go and just play ball," Evans said.
"Mike wants to be great," Koetter said. "No one's harder on him than him, and that's how it should be. Mike, he gets disappointed in himself when he doesn't perform like he knows he's capable of. I still don't think we're exactly where we need to be with our passing game in general — Jameis and Mike — but we're working on it. And that kind of stuff doesn't just come overnight. But you can rest assured, we're going to throwing balls to him."