TAMPA — Now we will see. We will see what the Bucs can do without their best player.
Mike Evans is expected to miss the final three games with a hamstring injury he sustained while making a 61-yard touchdown catch in Sunday’s 38-35 win over the Colts, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
We will see what Jameis Winston can do without his No. 1 target.
We will discover if Chris Godwin is really becoming elite now that he will command the kind of double teams that were routine for Evans.
We will learn if the Bucs can keep their three-game win streak alive in Detroit on Sunday with Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson trying to fill Evans’ cleats.
The best call in the Bucs’ playbook over the past six seasons has been the same, regardless of the head coach, offensive coordinator or quarterback.
Throw it up high to Evans and let him contort his body like a puppeteer working a marionette.
Let him do some toe tape swag or leap a defensive back in a single bound.
It’s ironic that Evans’ last play of the 2019 season will likely be a 61-yard touchdown reception from Winston.
He slipped out of tackle by Colts defensive back Pierre Desir, taking an awkward step and immediately grabbing his right hamstring.
Evans took a few more steps and collapsed to the ground in obvious pain, unable to put much weight on his right leg. He pounded the turf in disgust.
The three games will be as much as Evans has missed in his entire career, and he has never been absent from more than one game in any of his five previous seasons.
Even though the Bucs said Tuesday that they were still awaiting an MRI exam to evaluate before making a final determination on Evans, it’s a lock that he won’t be playing Sunday at Detroit. Or likely on a short week the following Saturday against the Texans at Raymond James Stadium.
At that point, what would be the sense in rushing him back on the field for the final game against Atlanta?
After the game this past Sunday, coach Bruce Arians said it was unlikely Evans would make it back with only three games remaining. But on Monday, he walked that back ever so slightly.
“They’re going to let it bleed out,” Arians said. “He was a quick healer when he had it in the spring. I would be very doubtful for this week.”
The Bucs, 6-7 heading into this week’s game at Detroit, were eliminated from the playoffs when the Vikings beat the Lions. Still, they are hoping to run the table to finish with only the Bucs’ second winning record since 2010.
Evans is having a terrific year and is third in the NFL with 1,117 receiving yards. He has 67 receptions, including eight touchdowns, and an average of 17.3 yards per catch, ranking sixth in the league.
He still could be named to the Pro Bowl, which is typically announced next week.
And fortunately, Evans played enough games join Randy Moss as the only players to record six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start a career.
By the time his career is over, he will own every Bucs receiving record. His name will eventually be in the Ring of Honor. The only thing yet to be determined is whether he will wear a gold jacket in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That’s how good Evans is. While Godwin is having a breakout year as the slot receiver in Arians’ offense, he would tell you it’s because Evans draws most of the heat off him.
Plus, Godwin has been doing all his work as the slot receiver where he doesn’t have the sideline to act as an extra defender. Can Perriman or Watson handle the heat out there without Evans on the field?
Even though Winston is second in the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, he would be the first to credit having one of the best receivers on the planet.
He trusts him more than any receiver on the field. In 2016 alone, Winston targeted Evans 173 times.
Evans always has been a player who could run over you. But the last two seasons, he has proven he can run past you.
He has gotten much leaner, down to about 225 pounds from nearly 240 when he entered the league. His speed has improved as evidenced by his average yards per catch elevating to 17.7 and 17.3 yards per catch.
That’s the kind of average you expect from DeSean Jackson, not the 6-foot-5 Evans.
But for the final three games, it appears that Evans will be gone.
Now we will see how the Bucs go on without him.