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How the Bucs diversified their passing game

O.J. Howard and Breshad Perriman posted their best performances of the season in a 28-11 victory at Jacksonville.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception in front of Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Jarrod Wilson during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK  |  AP]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception in front of Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Jarrod Wilson during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP]
Published Dec. 2
Updated Dec. 2

JACKSONVILLE — The numbers won’t blow you away, but the Bucs’ production Sunday offered a glimpse of what Tampa Bay can accomplish when it spreads the ball around.

Too often this season, the success of the Bucs’ passing game relied on its remarkable 1,000-yard receiving duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. No reliable third option has emerged.

With Evans and Godwin held mostly in check on Sunday, the Bucs received critical contributions from receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end O.J. Howard, who have struggled to find their roles in a new offense.

Perriman logged a career-high 87 receiving yards on five catches, including three catches converted third downs. Two of the three extended Bucs scoring drives as Tampa Bay went out to a 25-0 halftime lead on the way to a 28-11 victory over Jacksonville.

"I know third downs are crucial," Perriman said. "But for the most part, I was looking at every down as crucial. You want to make the play to the best of my ability."

Howard caught a season-high five balls from Jameis Winston for 61 yards, his second-highest total of the season. Four of Howard’s five catches were for more than 10 yards and three achieved first downs.

"You guys keep asking who's (number) three, there you go," Arians said. "It was great to see O.J. step up and Breshad. If we hit him one time in stride he's going to take it to the house."

Together, Perriman and Howard caught 10 balls on 12 targets for 148 yards.

So much has been made this season about Perriman’s hidden value, his exemplary speed, how great a blocker he is and how he developed quick chemistry with Winston on the practice field. And though Howard was poised for a breakout season in 2019, he has frustrated Arians with unsure hands and unproven blocking.

"They played awesome today, and they practice so hard throughout the week," Evans said. "You think they're getting the ball all the time in games just because of how hard they practice. But they're staying ready and Jameis found them today."

Combine that with Evans, who had just four catches on 11 targets for 53 yards, and Godwin (four catches on six targets for 50 yards) and the Bucs had four receivers with at least 50 yards on a day they were a receiver short due to Scotty Miller’s hamstring injury.

“That’s always the plan,” Howard said of the balance. “I think it’s easier in general for an offense. When we get a chance to do that, it makes it harder to get double covered and to key on someone. If we get that to happen and everyone’s on single, it makes the game go well for us.”

The Bucs’ 268 passing yards marked their fourth lowest total of the season. Winston didn’t have a touchdown pass. But it was the path to victory, Winston said.

"When we're able to do that, we're rolling," Winston said. "That just makes it tough on the defenses. We're blessed to have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who are both 1,000-yard receivers.

“But everyone likes to eat, too,” Winston added. “So it’s good to have everyone else get fed, and those guys appreciate that, too.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddientheYard

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