TAMPA, Fla. -- In a matter of seconds, the elation of becoming the first NFL player to record 1,000 receiving yards in his first seven seasons turned to agony as Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, a three-time Pro Bowler, fell to the turf, writhing in pain after hyperextending his left knee in the end zone.
"I think the life in the stadium really just got sucked out of it," wide receiver and close friend Chris Godwin said. "And I think that's really when you see how important Mike is to this team, this organization and to this city."
Evans didn't get to celebrate the milestone with his coaches and teammates on the sideline, instead limping off the field and onto a cart once inside the tunnel. He then left the stadium -- where his face has been etched on its facade the past several years -- to undergo an MRI.
Evans' MRI revealed no structural damage to his knee, a source confirmed to ESPN, as first reported by Fox Sports' Jay Glazer. The source said it's too soon to tell whether Evans will play next week in the playoffs, but the team is hopeful.
"It meant the world for him to get that record and then to have an easy touchdown -- the turf was really slick in the end zones, and it was just a freaky thing," said coach Bruce Arians, who was able to offer a glimmer of hope after the game. "Knock on wood, we don't think there's any serious damage. We'll know more in the next 24 hours."
The Bucs managed to take care of business, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 44-27. They achieved their goal of clinching the fifth seed in the NFC postseason, which guarantees they'll play the NFC East champion Washington Football Team.
The Bucs finished the regular season 11-5, just the fourth time in franchise history that they have finished with 11 wins. But the uncertainty with Evans tainted the excitement, even as they pulled together to win.
"It's always tough when you see guys go out," said quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for four touchdowns to bring his season total to 40, the second most in his career, behind the 50 he threw in 2007. "[I'm] proud of him for everything he's gone through this year and what he's fought through. It's an incredible record to have. Toughness, dependability, not obviously [only] skill, but attitude plays a big factor into those things. I just love playing with the guy, so when he went out, other guys really stepped up and made a bunch of plays."
Inside linebacker Kevin Minter said of Evans. "He wouldn't have wanted it any other way. We finished this thing for [No.] 13."
Godwin finished with 133 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Antonio Brown, lining up in Evans' "X" spot, finished with 138 receiving yards and two touchdowns, with both scoring touchdowns in the final four minutes to put the game out of reach.
"It [was] definitely a roller coaster of emotions," said Godwin, who saw Evans handle an even bigger workload when he missed games because of multiple injuries this season. "He breaks the record, and that's something that -- a guy being here for four years and watching him close in on that -- I was so proud of just the man that Mike is and the way he works, so I think that is really awesome. Then, next play, he goes down. It hurts -- I feel for my brother -- but I'm hoping he makes a speedy recovery.
"He does so much for everyone around here, and seeing him get hurt -- everyone kinda felt for that. But I think as a group, I think we did a pretty good job of bouncing back. It took a couple plays there, but we realized there was a task at hand, and we got back to work."
Evans entered the game needing 40 yards for the record. When he got that number down to 14 yards, he caught a 20-yard pass from Brady to make it 46, with fans quickly jumping to their feet. But the mood turned, somber quickly. With 24 seconds to go in the first quarter, the three-time Pro Bowler cut inside to catch what would have been a 10-yard touchdown pass, but instead his left knee bent awkwardly, with both Evans and the ball falling to the ground. He sat for several seconds before being helped off the field, unable to put any weight on his left leg.
"It was definitely devastating seeing that happen, especially right after the accolade that he just had," cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said. "But knowing Mike and knowing how he is, all he'd want for us is to keep playing hard and keep playing for each other and one another and to keep being a family and being a team."
"He's a big part of the leadership," Arians said of Evans, emphasizing that the Bucs had to shift their focus on what they could still control. "It sounds cold at times, but you have to go on."
When asked how much the slick field conditions played a role in Evans' injury, Arians said, "Totally. It just [gave] out from underneath him."
The Bucs had already clinched a playoff spot heading into Sunday's game but were fighting for the fifth playoff seed. Arians said last week that he was hoping Evans could have clinched the record then so he could sit him in Week 17. But they needed this win to ensure they could face a weaker NFC East opponent.
Now, his status going forward is uncertain. Evans has been the Bucs' No. 1 wide receiver for the past several years, frequently drawing the attention of opposing defenses with shadow coverage and double coverage. He also has been arguably Brady's most valuable target in the quarterback's first year in Tampa Bay, catching a team-leading 13 touchdown passes.
For now, Brady and Arians are both optimistic. The offense seems to have resolved the issues it was having with slow starts. For the second week in a row, the Bucs scored a touchdown on their opening drive, managed to put four quarters together and put up 40-plus points.
"Chris keeps making plays, Scotty [Miller] did a good job, Tyler [Johnson] made some plays, Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], Cam [Brate], everyone -- A.B. [Brown], obviously, [as well]," Brady said. "Just got to keep it going. We've got a big one next week -- it all comes down to one game. Now that the regular season's over, it's about one football game -- who plays well [and] who executes when the pressure is on."