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How clutch has Mike Evans been for the Buccaneers?

Drafted in 2014, Mike Evans has been a franchise centerpiece for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ever since.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Saying Mike Evans is great is the equivalent of saying snow is white, but not all great players are clutch and not all clutch players are great. Drafted out of Texas A&M, the seventh overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft has spent the better portion of his football life in Tampa Bay without an opportunity to flash his clutch nature. His elite play has accumulated superior stats without many wins. The last three years have rewritten the entire script of Mike Evans’ career. Tampa has been to the playoffs three consecutive seasons now, the only three times in Evans’ long tenured Bucs career and Evans has had the NFL spotlight shine on his team as he has been given the chance to catch passes from the G.O.A.T. Three years of being in late-season contention leads to a lot of must-win games and ‘got to have it’ moments. When those moments have come calling, Mike Evans has answered.

NFL: JAN 09 NFC Wild Card - Buccaneers at Washington Football Team

In 2020, Mike Evans played in his first career playoff game. He was coming off an injury suffered just one week prior during Tampa Bay’s week 17 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons where Evans had made NFL history, recording the most 1,000 yard receiving seasons to start a career. Even with his status coming into the game regarded as somewhat uncertain, his first career playoff start did nothing but bring out the best in the Bucs receiver. He led all players with 119 yards on six catches with none bigger than a deep pass from Tom Brady with four minutes remaining in the game to set up Ryan Succop for a crucial lead extending field goal.

Week two of the Buccaneers’ 2020 playoff run saw Tampa pitted against a familiar opponent and Tampa’s star receiver face to face with an all-time rival. Evans would have to square off or maybe more so square up, considering the nature of the conflict between the two, with New Orleans Saints’ cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The Buccaneers’ most difficult foe and the largest thorn in Evans’ side. Not only was Tampa able to quiet the dome as they knocked the Saints out of the playoffs, but Mike Evans exited the game with his first career playoff touchdown, fittingly coming against none other than Marshon Lattimore.

The Buccaneers continued to roll through the postseason gauntlet as they traveled to Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and Lambeau Field played host to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game. Without a more storied setting possible, Evans was immediately up for the task, with a deep ball third down reception on Tampa’s opening drive which he used to later set up his own touchdown catch. In what was to that point, Mike Evans’ biggest career game, he had made an instant impact. With the ball in his hands, he stood in the endzone finishing the game’s opening drive with a Tampa Bay score. Evans left Lambeau with 51 yards receiving, the aforementioned touchdown, and his Buccaneers advancing to the franchise’s second Super Bowl.

Super Bowl LV Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Super Bowl 55 was dominated by Tampa’s defense and run game, with most of the headlining-highlights going to Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. Even still, it was Mike Evans not Gronkowski, who finished with the game's longest reception, and it was Mike Evans who took over the game on three separate occasions without touching the ball. Late in the first half, in an effort to put points on the board before the intermission, the Buccaneers did as they often do and launched a deep ball for Evans. Bucs fans can confirm that Mike Evans is as good as any player in the National Football League at finding a way to draw contact when the ball is in the air and getting a flag thrown. Evans drew pass interference against Bashaud Breeland to vault the Buccaneers down the field. Just two plays later Evans was again targeted, this time in the endzone, and again drew a pass interference penalty. The second infraction placed the ball at the one-yard line and set the Buccaneers up for an easy score before the half.

Tom Brady finished Super Bowl 55 with a flawless stat line, no fumbles and no interceptions, but this is also thanks to Mike Evans. Mid second quarter, Tom Brady had a ball tipped up at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu, but there was more yellow on the field. Once again, Mike Evans found contact in his route and prompted a penalty. Crediting a player with drawing penalties feels cheap, like somewhat of a cop out and it would be if Evans wasn’t so consistently good at doing it. His Super Bowl performance was no fluke. The art of ‘flopping’ may have a negative connotation associated with it, but it is undoubtedly a part of the Mike Evans package and became a huge factor in Tampa’s Super Bowl victory.

In 2021, Tampa Bay cruised through the regular season en route to a division title. As the season progressed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ remarkably deep group of receivers started taking on injuries and eradications. By season’s end what was the deepest and most talented position group on the team had become Mike Evans and a lot of unknowns. Even as the situation trended towards Mike Evans or bust the Buccaneers turned to their legendary pass catcher who was up for the challenge. Tampa Bay started their playoff run against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mike Evans left the Eagles secondary in shambles with his all-around best playoff performance to date, tallying up a game high nine catches for 117 yards and an acrobatic touchdown as the Buccaneers stomped the Eagles.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Tampa’s 2021 season didn’t advance past the Divisional round of the playoffs, but blame can’t be placed at the feet of Mike Evans. Drawing a rather tough individual matchup for the second consecutive year in the Divisional round, Evans was asked to go up against one of the league’s best in Jalen Ramsey. In the game’s marquee matchup of Ramsey, who had tied his career high in interceptions in 2021, suiting up for a Rams’ defense which had just come off a dominating performance against the Arizona Cardinals the week before and Mike Evans who had just broke his own personal record for touchdown receptions in a season, snagging 14 was won by Evans. While his team suffered defeat the Buccaneers’ all time touchdown leader helped lead a heroic comeback attempt that ultimately fell slightly short. Mike Evans ended his 2021 season with a bang, hauling in eight receptions for 119 yards including a one-on-one deep ball touchdown against Jalen Ramsey.

This leads us to 2022. A season which has been, by many accounts a disappointment and one of Tom Brady’s worst. The Buccaneers muddled through most of the season seemingly unable to execute very much of anything at all. Mike Evans struggled to get any momentum going, disappearing without a logical level of targets for weeks at a time, leaving his streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons seemingly in jeopardy. This all changed when Tampa Bay found themselves in a week 17 must-win game. The Buccaneers had their back pinned up against the proverbial wall, needing to win to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason and Mike Evans exploded. Scoring not one, or two, but three touchdowns, on ten catches, while accounting for 207 yards receiving. When the Bucs found themselves in a spot where they needed to prevail, Evans played his heart out. Every fan dreams of having ‘big time players make big time plays in big time games’ for their team, against the Carolina Panthers, Mike Evans personified this in game as well as postgame— “I just think… We like moments like this, when our back is against the wall.”

Mike Evans is a great player, one of Tampa Bay’s greatest draft picks and will go down as one of the best Buccaneers of all time. He will always be remembered for his greatness on the field as well as all that he has done in and for his community, but Evans deserves to be remembered as a player who was at his best when his best was required. Stacking together playoff and big-game performances like Evans has, sets him apart. There are lots of big, tall, fast receivers who make plays, there are few who can make them as readily as Evans has and be as timely as Evans has been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With another playoff run right around the corner, Bucs’ fans should be excited to see what Evans has up his sleeve this time.