To our readers: Mike Evans' 2016 NFL Catch of the Year and the big Bucs' offseason catches — DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin — inspired us to mark the start of the 2017 season with a series of stories celebrating "The Catch." We hope you enjoy them.
As impressive as those plays were, neither signaled the arrival of the Buccaneers as a legitimate playoff contender quite like Evans' touchdown catch against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in late November.
At that point, who knew what to make of the 5-5 Bucs? They had beaten the Bears, but so what? Celebrating a win against Jay Cutler is like going to the movies and laughing out loud at a joke you've seen in the trailers. The road win against the Chiefs the next week moved the needle, but let's be honest: At least part of you wondered whether it was a fluke.
The Seahawks game was a "prove it" game, a chance for the Bucs — underdogs at home — to show that they could hang with the NFC's best. Evans' touchdown late in the first quarter did more than put Tampa Bay up 14-0 (it went on to win 14-5). It served notice. These aren't the old Bucs. We're not going away.
How did Evans beat one of the NFL's best cover cornerbacks? A convergence of play design, Evans' physical mentality and trust between quarterback and receiver. Let's go to the tape.
The Bucs line up in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends and two receivers). Brandon Myers is the "Y" tight end next to right tackle Demar Dotson, and Alan Cross is the "H-back," which is a tight end-fullback hybrid.
The Seahawks line up in their usual one high safety look. There are a few things worth noting presnap. One is the location of the other safety, Kam Chancellor, who is 7 yards off the line of scrimmage. He's there to help stop the run, but if the running back runs a route, he's responsible for covering him. Note, too, the alignment of the linebackers. They've shifted to the right to better match up with Tampa Bay's two tight ends. Seattle needs bodies there to defend the run. After all, the Bucs often ran out of this formation, as in the example below from their Week 10 win over the Bears.
One key difference between Chicago and Seattle: The Bears safety is shaded toward Evans' side. If Winston passes, the safety is there to help the cornerback. Based on the Seahawks' alignment — one safety deep, one close and the linebackers shifted to the right — we can see there's a good chance that Evans will be one-on-one with Sherman. What he does next, though, depends on Sherman's positioning.
"I had a route where I had to read (Sherman)," Evans says. "If he's pressed, then I'm going to have a fade. If he's off, then I'll have a different route. If it's Cover 2, then I'll have another route. So, I have three options on this."
Sherman presses, so it's off to the end zone. Evans has studied the cornerback's technique and anticipates the jam.
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"I watched him (when I was) in college and became a fan of his," he says. "I know how he plays, he likes to jab that inside hand."
Almost simultaneously, Evans and Sherman grab each others' inside shoulder pads.
"We're hand-fighting," Evans says. "Then I pulled myself through, and I slapped his hand down."
He gains a slight advantage around the 18-yard line. It's not much separation — maybe a half step — but that's often as much as a receiver will get when Sherman is covering him. He rarely loses early, and windows of opportunity are fleeting.
At that point, Jameis Winston commits. Evans is his best option. On the other side of the field, the Bucs are outnumbered five to three.
"I guess Jameis right there thought I could win," Evans says. "He trusted me and threw it over the top. I won late."
After the touchdown, Sherman looked around for a penalty flag and argued for offensive pass interference.
Evans had something else on his mind: "I got one. I want another one."
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.