TAMPA — Bucs receiver Mike Evans, as big a Harry Potter fan as you can find, looks forward to finding a few Hogwarts-related experiences on the Bucs’ trip to London this week.
But Evans sounds like he would rather challenge “He who must not be named” than endure the across-the-Atlantic flight and adjust to the 5-hour time change.
“Just trying to get through this flight and get this game over with and hopefully come back to America with a W and enjoy the bye week,” Evans said of the team’s NFC South rematch against Carolina at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “That’s my best-case scenario right there.”
“This is going to be a huge game for us,” Evans added, “and we need it really bad.”
To get the win, Evans will have to overcome the dementors who have stolen some of his onfield happiness. In last week’s 31-24 road loss to the Saints, they held the Bucs’ best player without a catch for just the second time in his six-year NFL career.
“Bottom line, to win football games, we’ve got to get Mike Evans the ball,” quarterback Jameis Winston said.
Overall, Evans has produced uneven numbers this season. He has just one 100-yard game — an eight-catch, 180-yard, three-touchdown game against the Giants in Week 3. His second-best performance came in a Week 4 win at Los Angeles, where he had four receptions for 89 yards. But 67 of those yards came on a single touchdown.
Keep in mind, he entered this season after posting career-high 1,524 yards on 86 receptions in 2018.
The Saints took Evans out of the game. Winston targeted him just three times Sunday, and he didn’t see a pass come his way for more than 15 yards, his deep-play ability taken away by Saints defensive backs who kept Evans in front of them.
“It was Cover 2 most of the time,” Evans said. “I’m sure that me and the coaches thought that when a corner follows somebody, they play more man than zone, but it was predominantly all zone, maybe a couple snaps of man here and there. That’s what we saw. We just need to do a better job of making adjustments.”
Evans frequently sees his share of double teams, and he often beats them, but the combination of cornerback Marcus Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams paired up in zone defense to stop Evans.
Of the three balls Winston threw Evans’ way, only one appeared to be catchable. Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis deflected one red zone pass — intended for Evans in the end zone — at the line of scrimmage. Another throw to Evans on an out route was low. And Williams, in man coverage, broke up the only other pass intended for Evans.
“It seems like the same picture,” Evans said. “I’d seen (Lattimore) and (Williams) to my side the whole game, about 80 percent of the game. I guess I have to do a better job of getting open. I don’t know. I guess I have to move around a little bit.”
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Evans came open a few times, but Winston, flushed out of the pocket, couldn’t get him the ball.
“He’s open two or three times when we’re getting shoved out of the pocket and can’t get our feet (set) to get back there to him,” Arians said. “So that combination of rush and coverage got him affected pretty good.”
Winston agreed that he found Evans open “two or three times” but executing a pass to get him the ball “was iffy.”
“They did a good job,” Winston said.
This week, Evans will match up against a familiar foe in Panthers cornerback James Bradberry, whom Evans has had success against. Bradberry, however, also led the way in holding Evans to one catch on 10 targets in Carolina last year.
“He’s a good physical corner,” Evans said. “He knows all my routes. Everybody in the division knows every route that I’m going to run already I feel like, and I know how they’re going to play it. So we both have the advantage of playing each other so much.”
Arians said the Bucs need to move Evans around more, which potentially spells more snaps in the slot so he can utilize his route-running strengths. In Arians’ offense, receiver Chris Godwin has excelled, taking more of the offensive snaps in the slot position.
Last week, Evans played just six of his 56 snaps in the slot. In his three-touchdown game against the Giants, Evans logged a season-high 15 of 67 plays in the slot.
“I think (it’s on) everybody, me, the coaches. I think everybody can help get him more involved, get him the football,” Winston said. “We’ve just got to get him the ball. There’s nothing much else to say to it.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.