TAMPA, Fla. -- The status of Tampa Bay Buccaneers star wide receiver Mike Evans is up in the air for their wild-card game Saturday at Washington (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC) after he hyperextended his knee Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. An MRI revealed no structural or ligament damage, sources told ESPN.
The Bucs are somewhat optimistic that the three-time Pro Bowler can play on Saturday, but they also indicated that they have to wait and see how his knee responds to treatment throughout the week.
The question is, if he is able to play, how effective will he be? The Bucs got a glimpse of life without Evans after the first quarter Sunday and they’ll want to have contingency plans in place.
Here’s a look at how things went for the other pass-catchers without Evans and how the Bucs can respond with the healthy weapons they have.
Antonio Brown: Brown stepped into Evans' X receiver role Sunday and delivered his best game as a Buccaneer, catching 11 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns -- earning himself a $250,000 bonus for reaching 45 receptions in the process. What makes Brown so valuable is his ability to do it all as a route runner -- but it's his suddenness and ability to stop and go, getting defenders out of position, that really sets him apart. We saw that when he was lined up against Isaiah Oliver on Sunday on his 23-yard catch in the first quarter and on his 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
When Brown first got to Tampa Bay, his biggest contributions came in the quick passing game, something Brady needed but didn’t really have with Evans, who’s more of a long-strider, and while Chris Godwin was dealing with injuries. But the last two weeks, Brown has become an asset downfield too, which you could see on his 46-yard touchdown to seal the game against the Falcons in Week 15. He reached 20.41 miles per hour on that play, too -- the fourth-fastest play by a Bucs receiver all year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Godwin: He caught five passes on seven targets for 133 receiving yards and two touchdowns Sunday. What was most impressive about both Godwin and Brown is that with 8:00 left and the Falcons pulling within three points, they each scored touchdowns to put the game out of reach. Godwin's ability to concentrate and make plays against tight coverage, which you could see on his 29-yard touchdown catch against Foyesade Oluokun with less than 1 yard of separation between the two, is where he shines.
Scotty Miller: Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich loves to pair Godwin and Brown using the scissors and rub concepts and will often have Evans isolated on the other side of the formation. But we saw Miller getting more involved on both ends of that Sunday in Evans' absence. Miller stepped into the Bucs' fourth receiver role this year and stands to get the most opportunities should Evans not be available, although coach Bruce Arians said it would take more than one guy to replace Evans. Just don't let Miller's diminutive size (5-foot-9, 174 pounds) fool you -- he's not Julian Edelman. He's a vertical guy who lines up outside and can blow by defenders. He clocked 20.84 miles per hour on his 48-yard touchdown grab against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the second-fastest of any Bucs receiver this season.
Rob Gronkowski: The area where the Bucs would miss Evans most is in the red zone. With Brady's precision as a thrower and Evans' monster catch radius and ability to make contested catches, those two took it to another level this year. Nine of Evans' franchise-record 13 touchdown catches came in the red zone. But that's where Gronkowski can show his value. The tight end is 3-of-4 on fade routes thrown to the end zone this season, with an average of 6.33 yards per reception on those plays. Gronkowski also has 11 postseason touchdown catches in the red zone since 2010, more than any other player in that span. He's been particularly valuable over the years on crossing routes.
Cam Brate: The tight end was arguably former quarterback Jameis Winston's top red-zone weapon, but he hasn't gotten the same volume of red- zone targets from Brady. Still, Brate's gone 3-of-4 for two touchdowns this season in the red zone, but it's been a while. He and Brady missed on a chance to score just before halftime Sunday when Brate slipped. Prior to that, their last red- zone attempt came in Week 10 against the Panthers on a 5-yard touchdown. Many of his opportunities this year have come with Gronkowski lined up on the opposite side of formations, luring defenders away from Brate.
Tyler Johnson: The 2020 fourth-round draft pick got 18 snaps Sunday and 24 last week against the Lions. You'll see him mostly when the Bucs go four or five wide in the red zone or in run situations and on special teams. Like Godwin, Johnson's concentration and ability to make contested catches sets him apart. He just hasn't had the number of reps with Brady as Evans, Brown, Godwin or Gronkowski because of a soft-tissue injury that kept him out for almost all of training camp. But he did step up and lead the team in receiving yards against the Chicago Bears in Week 5, where he caught four passes on six targets for 61 receiving yards.