Bucs receivers are weapons once again

by Gary Shelton on January 6, 2023

in general

Friday, 4 a.m.

One of them spent the season trying to recover from a disconnect with his quarterback. The other was trying to recover from a severe knee injury.

For a long time, it seemed as if Mike Evans owed money to Tom Brady. He spent long stretches of play being ignored, as if the offensive line couldn't buy enough time for Evans to get open.

Chris Godwin, meanwhile, came back early from last season's knee injury, but he didn't come back all the way. He struggled to find his old burst.

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The result, of course, is that the receivers, too, contributed to the slowdown of the Bucs' offense. Toss in the absence of Rob Gronkowski, the injuries to Julio Jones and the inconsistency of Russell Gage, and the Bucs weren't as explosive as expected.

Ah, but here it is, at the end of the season.

And once again, Evans and Godwin are Butch and Sundance.

It has taken some time, and some disappointment, but the Bucs' duo is dynamic again.

It's impressive when you think about it. For all the stretches when Brady seemed to look everywhere else but in the direction of Evans. Yet, Evans finished with 1,125 yards in 15 games, the ninth straight season he has broken 1,000 yards.

And Godwin? Despite playing only 14 games, he is two catches away from 100 for the season, 32 yards away from 1,000.

Oh, there are still problems with the offense. Together, Evans and Godwin have just nine touchdown passes compared to 19 a year ago. Still, when you consider the running game, the offensive line, the red zone struggles, the major threat of this offense is its passing game.

In Sunday's division clinching game, Evans had 207 yards on 10 receptions. Godwin had 120 on nine. both had their season's highs in reception yardage.

"It was good to see it happen – especially in a ballgame – especially from those two, right?" offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said of Brady and Evans. "From those two, it was good to see those two finally get connected in a big way, right? They did it in a big way in a very important ballgame, so it was good to see.”

The Bucs have been uneven for most of the year. The eight teams they've beaten so far are just 55-73 (Atlanta is 6-10 going into Sunday's game). Still, the post-season is the post-season.

Evans said he enjoys playing with Godwin.

"I mean, he’s a hell of a player," Evans said. "He should be up for Comeback Player of the Year – I don’t know who all is in the running, but he came back from an injury late in the season last year and he’s still one of our best players and came through big for us this year.”

So what happens Sunday against Atlanta. If form holds true, the Falcons will play hard early. But if they fall behind, the fight might go out of them.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Atlanta 17.

In other NFL games:

Tennessee 24, Jacksonville 21.

Buffalo 20, New England 17.

Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 14.

Miami 21, N.Y. Jets 14.

Philadelphia 30, N.Y.Giants 20.

And in college football:

Georgia 24, TCU 14.

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