TAMPA – Buccaneers rookie safety Justin Evans was a busy man last week. After getting onto the field for just eight defensive snaps the first two games, he was in on 45 of the 80 snaps the defense played during the Bucs 25-23 victory over the Giants.
He should get on the field for even more snaps tonight.
With starting safety Keith Tandy and top backup T.J. Ward both listed as doubtful because of hip injuries, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Evans will make his first NFL start tonight when the Bucs take on the Patriots at Raymond James Stadium.
It’s quite an undertaking for the Bucs second-round draft pick but after holding his own against the Eli Manning and the Giants last week, Koetter believes the team’s second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M is more than ready for the extra duty.
“He’s getting real close to being ready to break out,’’ Koetter said.
Few have ever doubted that a breakout was in the offing at some point for Evans. Though he’s still a bit raw as a tackler, a guy who still thinks more about making a big hit than just making the play, he has long been considered a defensive tone setter.
He’s a player who likes to make big hits because he can. Despite his 5-fot-11, 199-pound frame, he can deliver a wallop. But he racked up 23 missed tackles last year alone largely because his focus was on finishing off his target rather than finishing the play.
The Bucs have worked to refine that mindset and after making three tackles during those 45 snaps last week we’ll get a chance to see just how well he’s adjusted his game tonight. It’ll be a baptism under fire for Evans going against Tom Brady and one Bucs coach can’t wait to see it.
“I’m excited about watching him play in this environment that we are going to be playing (in) on Thursday,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said earlier this week. “Justin has done everything that we’ve asked.
“He’s shown up on special teams through the first three games and when he has had the opportunity to play on defense, he’s done a really nice job there for us. It will be fun to watch. I’m anticipating he is going to play like our young linebackers played. I really do.’’
Smith was referring to third-year weak-side linebacker Adarius Glanton and rookie middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who stepped in as the starters last week for Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander and made it look as if neither David nor Alexander was gone.
The Bucs will likely be leaning on both Glanton and Beckwith again tonight, as well as Evans, who is expected to start opposite Chris Conte. At the very least, it will give Brady a look he probably wasn’t expecting to see.
Bucs win fourth straight whipping hapless Lions Sunday
For the fourth consecutive game, the Tampa Bay Bucs put together four full quarters and this time, beat a struggling Detroit team 38-17 in the Motor City Sunday.
Quarterback Jameis Winston once again through an early interception, but then, also once again, played brilliantly afterwards, throwing for 458 yards and four touchdowns as the Bucs led 21 – 0 in the first half.
Showing no ill effects from a tiny thumb fracture on his throwing hand, Winston hooked up with Breshad Perriman (above) on the first of two first half scores for a 7 – 0 lead. Then, after a franchise record 99-yard drive, found rookie Scottie Miller on an 33 yard touchdown and it was 14 – 0.
Winston’s third score of the first half was also to Perriman wide open from 25 yards and he topped 300 yards in passing in half number one.
Tampa Bay took a 24 – 3 early in the third, but then the Lions behind rookie free agent quarterback David Blough made a bit of a rally. Blough led two scoring drives that were capped by fellow rookie Wes Hills taking them in from a yard out for TDs and it was 24 – 17 early in the fourth quarter
The Lions actually got the ball back and looked like they might have a chance to go tie the game but that’s when, Buccaneers rookie defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting jumped in front of a Blough pass on the Lions sideline and raced 70 yards untouched for what turned out to be the clinching score. Winston added a third touchdown pass to Perriman in the final three minutes to provide the final margin.
In the win Winston made NFL history, as the first quarterback to ever throw for 450 yards or more in back-to-back games. And, he has all but solidified that he will be brought back as the quarterback for 2020 with the way that he has played down the stretch the season.
Despite throwing his lead reading 24th interception in the first quarter, Winston is in the top free in touchdown passes and yardage, and the Bucs are coming on strong late.
It’s the first time they’ve won four times in a row, since the end of the 2016 season, when they won five straight games. And, Tampa Bay has now levelled their record to 7 – 7. It is only the second time in the last 7 seasons the Bucs have won at least seven games. The Lions loss is their seventh straight and 10th in 11 games.
The Buccaneers will come back home for a special Saturday afternoon game with the AFC South leading Houston Texans. Houston was victorious in Nashville Sunday and will be looking for a win trying to secure a playoff spot.
Bucs in Detroit leads our NFL primer
Three weeks to go in the NFL regular season and all three state NFL teams are in action in winnable situations.
First, the Buccaneers try to level their record at 7 – 7 and win their fourth game in a row, as they travel to take on the lowly Detroit Lions. All eyes will be on quarterback Jameis Winston, who suffered a tiny fracture in his throwing thumb late in the first half of last week’s 38-35 win over the Colts.
After initially missing the first series of the second half while having a thumb x-rayed, Winston came back and led the Buccaneers to a 17-point rally, including throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman the final 5 minutes. Coach Bruce Arians declared Winston ready to go after he was able to throw the ball in Friday practice.
Tampa Bay will be without star wide receiver Mike Evans with a pulled hamstring suffered in the win last week and maybe, without starting left tackle Donovan Smith, who suffered a knee injury Sunday and could not practice this week. Smith is listed as doubtful for the game.
Meanwhile, the Lions are struggling mightily having lost six games in a row and are down to 3rd string quarterback David Blough and backup running backs. This is a very winnable game for the Buccaneers inside of Ford Field.
As for the Dolphins, they’re back in the Meadowlands for the second consecutive week in a scheduling quirk. Seven days after losing in heartbreaking fashion 22 – 21 to the Jets on a last-second field goal, they will play MetLife Stadium’s other tenant, the New York Giants.
The Dolphins have played much better football down the stretch of the season and had they taken advantage of the five red-zone opportunities last week with something other than Jason Sanders field goals, we would probably be talking about a fourth win in five games for them.
Miami gave wide receiver DeVante Parker a lucrative contract extension on Friday, but he is questionable to play after suffering a concussion last week and will be a game-time decision. As for the Giants, they have gone back to veteran QB Eli Manning, who was benched earlier in the year in favor of rookie QB Daniel Jones.
Manning lead the Giants out to a 17 – 3 lead in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football only to see the offense stall and the Eagles rally to win in overtime.
This is also one of several teams that Miami is competing with for a better draft position next April, but you get the sense that Brian Flores’ team is not worried about that right now.
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars stumble into Oakland for an historic final game for the Raiders at their home for the last 60 years.
The Jags have lost five straight games and Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged this week that he and everyone in the front office and on the field is on notice that they may be out of a job. The Jaguars benched Nick Foles after the first half of the loss two weeks ago to Tampa Bay, but QB Gardner Minshew got very little going on offense last week in their blowout loss at home to the Chargers.
It would not be surprising if Minshew struggles again this afternoon, that Marrone turns back to Foles try to spark the team.
As for the Raiders that they were looking good in the AFC playoff picture at 6 – 4, but have now lost three straight games including a blowout loss to Tennessee at home last week, which has all but eliminated them
Derek Carr and the Raider offense will look to take advantage of a poor and banged up Jacksonville defense that has been surrendering over 25 points a game each of the last five weeks.
The Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas next year and this is their final scheduled game to be played in the nostalgic Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. So the Jags will be the answer to a trivia question, as well.
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