TAMPA, Fla. -- Statistically speaking, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans may be having one of the best seasons of any wide receiver in the league this year. Heading into the final regular-season game against the Carolina Panthers, his 1,256 receiving yards are currently fifth in the NFL and his 11 touchdown catches are third. But he believes he left plays out on the field.
"I thought I had an all right year," Evans said. "Everyone keeps telling me I had a lot of success. I thought I played OK."
Just OK? He made it to the Pro Bowl. He also became just the fourth player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards in his first three seasons, joining the likes of John Jefferson, A.J. Green and Randy Moss. Odell Beckham Jr. would join that group soon after.
“No, I thought I played all right, because people don’t see the film that we see," Evans said. "I thought I had an OK year. I thought I was maybe a top- five wideout. But I wanted to be No. 1 and maybe if I was No. 1, I could’ve helped us get to the playoffs.”
Evans had huge games on the road in wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs. Then in the Bucs' 14-5 win over the Seattle Seahawks at home, he put up two touchdowns on Richard Sherman and the Seahawks' vaunted secondary. He also contributed 100-yard performances in losses to the Falcons and the Rams.
But Evans also has had to bear the burden of being the team's No. 1 receiver without much help on the other side. Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve after Week 5. Jackson's replacement, Cecil Shorts III, also went to IR with a knee injury. Teams have doubled up on Evans and also deployed a cornerback to shadow him for entire games.
Evans found himself in a similar situation last season when Jackson missed several games. Evans' touchdown catches went from 12 in his rookie season to just three last year. A 12-year veteran, Jackson had a lot more experience with opposing defenses keying in on him. This year, Evans rebounded and could break his personal best. He could also become just the second Buccaneer in team history to have 100 catches in a season, something Keyshawn Johnson achieved in 2001. Evans needs nine catches on Sunday.
His focus, though, is on beating Carolina for a rare season sweep and then getting to work again in the offseason. He wants to be more durable and to improve his blocking so he can be a complete receiver.
"I think those two things for sure," Evans said. "I caught the ball well, ran good routes. I have to be more explosive, get more yards after the catch. I think that’s pretty much it.”