TAMPA – Outside of the 39-yard circus catch he made at the end of an 11-second-long Jameis Winston scramble play, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans didn’t have a very big game against the Chicago Bears last year.
Bracketed and double-teamed throughout the day, the eventual 2016 Pro Bowler wound up catching just four passes, none of which went for a touchdown, for 66 yards, his seventh-lowest yardage output of the season.
Evans had a much bigger game against the Bears this year. In what became the Bucs season opener last Sunday, Evans had a much-more Evans-like afternoon, catching seven of the nine passes thrown his way for 93 yards and a touchdown.
The difference? DeSean Jackson.
Like Evans a year ago, Jackson didn’t put together the kind of game against the Bears that jumps off the stat sheet at you. He caught just three passes for 39 yards. His mere presence, though, freed up Evans to be the game changer he’s capable of being.
Take that touchdown catch for example. It came on a first-down play from the Bears 13, where Evans was matched on the far right side of the field against a single cornerback, whom he easily beat to make the catch of Winston’s fade pass into the end zone.
The reason Evans faced single coverage, though, was because Jackson was put in a bunch formation on the other side of the field that forced the single high safety on the play to wait until Winston first looked Jackson’s way before committing to Evans.
The Bucs didn’t have anyone to draw the safety’s attention away from Evans a year ago, not just in the Bears game but in a lot of games down the stretch, which is why the Bucs believe Jackson is already having an impact on the way defenses are treating Evans.
“The year before, they doubled (Evans) every time we got inside the 10-yard line,’’ Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken explained. “So we didn’t have that opportunity (to throw to Evans that was presented to us this year). They didn’t give it to us.’’
According to Evans, the Bears gave the Bucs that opportunity regularly throughout their 29-7 opening-day victory last Sunday.
“Yeah, there was a lot more one-high stuff this year, a lot more man coverage,’’ Evans said. “And that’s what we want. Coach Dirk (Koetter) is going to put us in a good position to get the one-on-one matchups, so we’ve just got to win ‘em when we get ‘em.’’
The Bucs have long thought Jackson would have that kind of impact. That’s why they brought him aboard this past spring when they signed him to a three-year, $33.5 million deal in free agency.
Their thinking then was that in addition to providing Winston with one of the best deep threats in the game, Jackson would also create greater opportunities for other players throughout the lineup.
It took just one game for that their theory to be proved correct.