TAMPA — Mike Evans returned to the forefront of the Bucs' offense in Sunday’s 31-17 win over Carolina, recording his first 100-yard receiving game of the season, a strong way of rebounding from his one-catch performance last week in New Orleans.
Evans clearly was healthier. A nagging hamstring injury made the Bucs pick their spots sending him downfield in the loss at the Saints. And after missing a big chunk of practice over the previous two weeks, Evans was able to get more reps with Tom Brady in practice this week.
“And we just took what the defense gave us this week,” Evans said. "There wasn’t a lot of double teams this week, a lot of zone, and Tom was just picking it apart.”
The result was a seven-catch, 104-yard, one-touchdown performance against a young Panthers secondary committed to playing single coverage on Evans. After seeing just six balls thrown his way in the opener, Evans was targeted 10 times, seven times in the first half.
“We’ve got to do that every week,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “We can’t ever let Mike just sit still and be somewhere where everybody can double-cover him. Tom did a great job of finding him, especially deep down the middle.”
Brady and Evans connected for the Bucs' longest offensive gain of the day, a 50-yard completion over the middle that set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. On that play, Evans lined up in the slot — Arians said the Bucs had to move Evans around more — and Brady found him open despite good coverage.
Evans also caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the first quarter to his back shoulder.
“They covered that route great, but that throw was unbelievable, right in my stomach,” Evans said. “I had no choice but to catch it. Ball placement was perfect. They gave me some good looks where I’d get some easy catches and Tom took advantage of it.”
Evans had five catches for 91 yards in the first half, but just two for 13 in the second half.
Asked to evaluate his day, Evans said, “I don’t think I played that well. I think I played okay,” but added he’s feeling better physically, which is the best sign for him.
“I’m still trying to get back into that midseason form,” Evans said. “I was having a really great camp and then I had a hamstring injury. But the training staff has been doing a great job and I’m close to fully healthy, for sure.”
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Brady had two passes in the end zone dropped, but neither of those plays qualified as the worst miscue by one of his receivers.
Holding a 14-point lead late in the second quarter, the Bucs had a second and 15 at the Carolina 46 when Brady found Cyril Grayson down the left sideline wide open. Grayson had trouble finding the ball in the air as he ran along the sideline and as he reached up, the ball hit off the front of his helmet and went out of bounds for an incompletion.
“We’ve all got to execute better at the end of day,” Brady said. “It’s an execution game running, blocking, catching, throwing, kicking, returning, handling the ball, handoffs, everything’s got to be better.”
Arians said the wind, which was gusting at 23 mph at kickoff, might have played a role.
“That was a big one,” Arians said. “Tom found him late. And the wind was wicked, coming across that sideline and blowing across. One thing about Cyril, he’s got great hands and that’s why he’s in there and (it) hit him in the head. That play would have been a huge play for us.”
Scotty Miller dropped a sure touchdown pass in the first quarter, and running back LeSean McCoy couldn’t hang on to a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Pressure up the middle
The Bucs sacked Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater five times, and three of those were by interior linemen.
Ndamukong Suh recorded two sacks, and added two quarterbacks hits, while William Gholston had one sack and two quarterback hits.
It’s a good sign for the Bucs defense that the interior linemen can get to the quarterback when the team’s top pass rushers are being double teamed.
Arians said that Carolina was focused on stopping pressure from the outside, concentrating on outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, which allowed the linemen to get more push up the middle. The Bucs had just one sack last week.
“I thought Vita (Vea) was held a couple of times, but you know, nobody’s throwing flags this year yet,” Arians said. “But ,yeah, I thought the pass rush was good.”
Suh had this sixth two-sack game of his career; he had just 2 ½ sacks all of last season.
Bucs quiet McCaffrey
Despite scoring two touchdowns, Panthers do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey ran for just 59 yards on 13 carries. He hobbled off the field following his second score, a 7-yard run with 13:25 left in the fourth quarter, and did not return.
McCaffrey is slated to get an MRI on Monday to gauge the severity of the injury.
In their last three meetings with the Panthers, the Bucs have held McCaffrey to 42 rushing yards a game.
Quotes of the day
“It’s only a finger.”
— Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis on having his left index finger dislocated in the fourth quarter, then popped back into place before returning to action
“This is weird. ... Is this recorded?”
— Bucs receiver Mike Evans after walking into an empty postgame news conference room to do his interviews through video conferencing.