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Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans laments the one play he didn’t make

Giants 32, Bucs 31: Mike Evans says the first three-touchdown game of his NFL career should have been four. Here’s why.

TAMPA — Mike Evans had one of the best receiving games in Bucs history in just one half Sunday.

After two nondescript games — at least by Evans’ standard — Evans had accomplished something by halftime that only two other Tampa Bay receivers had. He caught three touchdown passes as the Bucs ran out to a 18-point halftime lead over the Giants.

But as that lead slowly went away and the Bucs found themselves behind going into their final drive of the game, Evans made one final catch of the game, his only reception of the second half.

It was big, and he wishes he had it back.

With the Bucs trailing by a point, Evans streaked down the west sideline and caught a 44-yard bomb from Jameis Winston, looking the ball into his chest to put the Bucs in range for a game-winning field goal try.

But rookie kicker Matt Gay would shank a 34-yard attempt right.

Evans finished with 190 receiving yards on eight catches. He averaged 23.8 yards per reception, but after the Bucs’ 32-31 loss to the Giants, all he could think about is what would have happened if he had cut in front of the defender and tried to beat him to the end zone.

“I wanted to run under it and try to run into the end zone, but I just wanted to secure the catch and get down there,” Evans said. “I didn’t know how much time was left. I knew we had a decent amount of time. I probably should have just run under it and ran it in. In the end that would have been great, but it didn’t happen.”

He became the first Bucs receiver to record at least three touchdown receptions in a game since Jimmie Giles recorded a franchise-record four touchdown catches in a 41-38 loss at Miami on Oct. 20, 1985, The only other Bucs player to record three touchdown catches in a game was Morris Owens on Sept, 24, 1976.

“Y’all been covering me for a while,” Evans said. “I really don’t care about stats. I feel just as bad as Matt right now. I wanted to win bad. I had my sights set on going to L.A. 2-1 just like we all did. That’s why you don’t think to far ahead obviously.”

Evans also became just the sixth player since 2000 to have a game with at least 190 receiving yards, three touchdown receptions and a yards-per-reception average of 23 or more.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he’s seen lots of big receiving days. He coached Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, but said Evans’ game —- even in a loss — compared well to others he’s seen.

“Tough to say,” Arians said. “But that was a huge day, especially that last play.”

Games of 190 receiving yards, three touchdown catches and 23 yards a reception

(Since 2000)

Player, Team Date Opponent Recpt Yds TD Yds/recpt

Mike Evans, TB 9/22/19 NYG 8 190 3 23.8

Jamaal Charles, KC 12/15/13 OAK 9 195 4 24.4

Andre Johnson, HOU 11/3/13 IND 7 229 3 25.4

Kenny Britt, TEN 10/24/10 PHI 6 225 3 32.1

Chad Johnson, CIN 11/19/06 NO 6 190 3 31.7

Albert Connell, WAS 10/22/00 JAX 7 211 3 30.1

Evans entered the day with just 89 yards on five catches on the season after battling through constant double teams. By halftime on Sunday, Evans already surpassed his season total with 146 receiving yards on seven catches and all three Bucs first-half touchdowns.

A porous Giants pass defense that entered the day ranked 30th of the league’s 32 teams in pass defense (allowing 321 yards a game) was determined to play Evans in man coverage, and they paid for it.

Evans caught all three balls thrown his way on the Bucs’ opening drive — all gains of 14 yards or more — including a 21-yard touchdown catch in tight coverage to give the Bucs an early lead.

He caught his second touchdown pass on the Bucs’ second offensive drive, taking a quick screen pass from Winston and getting a block from receiver Chris Godwin for a three-yard touchdown pass.

Winston also connected with Evans for the longest gain of the first half, as Evans beat his man downfield for a 55-yard gain that eventually led to Gay’s 47-yard field goal, which gave the Bucs a 15-10 lead. Evans finished the first half with a 21-yard touchdown reception to give the Bucs a 25-10 lead.

After the half, Evans didn’t see the ball until that 44-yard catch on his final drive.

“I think we came out a little lackadaisical in the second half,” Evans said. “B.A. told us at halftime. We played a good 30 minutes, now we have to play another good 30 minutes. We didn’t do that.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieintheYard