TAMPA — Russell Gage has disappeared for long stretches during his first season with the Bucs. But the receiver keeps popping up in the end zone.
Gage had two more touchdown receptions in Sunday’s 34-23 loss to the Bengals, giving him a team-leading four for the season.
That’s one more than Mike Evans, who recorded a career-high 14 touchdown receptions a year ago.
Gage says he has taken advantage of the double teams on Evans to break free in man-to-man coverage.
“I think it’s timing a little bit,” Gage said Wednesday. “A lot of times they roll the coverages to Mike, for sure. They like to double him. I get a lot of one-on-ones; I can win my one-on-ones pretty easily. (Quarterback) Tom (Brady) knows that.
“We just kind of take advantage of those things when it’s down there. Credit Mike and (receiver) Chris (Godwin) and those guys moving those coverages away from me and making the most of my opportunities.”
The offense this season hasn’t been the high-flying version that Gage believed he was signing up for when he inked a three-year, $30 million contract with $20 million guaranteed as a free agent from the Falcons.
But Gage suffered a hamstring injury in training camp, and the recurring nature of the injury has prevented him from playing in more than 10 of the 14 games so far this season.
When he has played, however, he has been very efficient.
Gage has 40 receptions on only 55 targets for 313 yards and the four touchdowns. That’s an average of only 7.8 yards per catch, well below his 10.7-yard average in four seasons with the Falcons.
Brady had a solid first half Sunday against the Bengals, passing for 194 yards with touchdown tosses to Godwin and Gage. Then came a barrage of four turnovers by Brady to start the second half, two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
“The first half, we were hitting on all cylinders and we’re being the team that we want to be, that we know we can be,” Gage said. “So, we’ve just got to find a way to translate that in the second half and play like that throughout the whole game.”
Sunday’s game at Arizona should provide more opportunities for Gage and Brady. But Gage warned that a team like the Cardinals, who are out of playoff contention at 4-10, could be dangerous.
“I’ve been on those teams when you’re not in the playoffs,” Gage said. “Not a playoff contender. And you’re just going out there every day and leaving it on the field. … We know we’ve got to come out here and play hard and give it all we got. Going up against guys that have nothing to lose, they’re going to throw everything at us.”
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Gage said he looks forward to playing on Christmas Day. Getting in the end zone again would just put a bow on the experience.
“I’m excited about it personally,” he said. “Growing up, I watched games on Christmas Day. On Thanksgiving. I was like, ‘That’s awesome. They get to play on a holiday like this.’ I would go outside in the yard and play football with my friends.
“We get to play on this day. We’re playing for a purpose here. We’re first in our division. We have a lot of things at stake. I personally have never been to the playoffs.”
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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