Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There was a time, a couple seasons back, in which I realized I was writing something about Mike Evans nearly every week in this mailbag intro. He just kept doing cool things and I couldn’t help myself. I had to force myself to expand my intro-related horizon. I even started keeping a list of my intro topics so that I wouldn’t duplicate anything, a practice I’ve maintained to this day.

It is for that final reason that I can tell you with confidence that I haven’t written an intro specifically about Mike Evans since last January, and that one really just used him as a springboard to the main topic, that being the average length of the touchdowns in all the Bucs’ three-touchdown games. Evans had just added one of those against the Panthers. The last time the intro was all about Evans was in late March of 2022.

What I’m saying is, I think I’ve stayed away long enough. I’m going back to the well, and it’s because I’m fascinated with Evans’s current climb up the NFL’s all-time list for touchdown receptions. Each time he catches another touchdown pass – which has been, like, every game so far this season – he jumps from inclusion in one group of interesting names to another one. The first time he scored this year he equaled Anquan Boldin and Reggie Wayne. Then he found the end zone again and left them behind for his new gang of Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. He scored again on Monday night and made a new home with Mark Clayton, Irving Fryar, Tommy McDonald and Andre Rison. This is like playing the NFL Immaculate Grid. It’s a weekly rediscovery of, ‘Oh yeah, that guy.’ I love it.

So let’s presume that Mike is going to keep scoring touchdowns. Heck, if you don’t get to this article for a couple days he might have already scored again. I want to present to you the various groups of players he’s going to be joining and then bidding adieu as he continues his climb up the charts.

– With his next touchdown catch, number 85, Evans will turn a threesome into a foursome with Lance Alworth, Hines Ward and Paul Warfield that is tied for 18th. This is an interesting group. Evans gives Ward someone a little closer to his age to hang out with, as Alworth and Warfield both played in the ’60s and ’70s. They are also both Hall of Famers. Ward is an unusual entry on the list because he’s the only player in the top 20 who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in it, and it doesn’t seem like he’s particularly close to getting in. He’s been eligible since 2017 and has been a semifinalist every year since (that’s usually about 25 players), but he has not yet been a finalist.

– Touchdown number 86 would move him up to 17th, a plateau with just one current member. And Mike may need to get there soon because that member is active tight end Jimmy Graham, who just got his 86th touchdown last week. Evans may have to occupy the 17th spot by himself for a spell.

– With his 87th touchdown catch, Evans would tie Andre Reed for 16th. Reed, of course, is in the Hall of Fame with 951 catches for 13,198 yards. Evans is currently at 700 for 10,722, so a few more seasons at his usual level of production should have him around the same vicinity as Reed, stat-wise, and by then he’ll probably have more touchdowns, too.

– At 88 touchdowns he would equal Don Maynard, a Hall of Famer who played from 1958 to 1973.

– There isn’t anybody with 89 touchdown catches, and Davante Adams is the only one currently sitting at 90. It’s highly probable that Adams will have already moved out by the time Evans gets to 90. So it might not be until touchdown number 91 that Evans will have company again. Isaac Bruce is sitting there, in 13th place.

– And at 92 we see one of Evans’s former teammates, Rob Gronkowski, currently alone in 12th place. It will be fun to see these two Super Bowl LV champions reunited.

After that it’s going to take a while to get to the top 11. Here’s the rest of the list.

11th. Don Hutson, 99

9th. Tim Brown and Steve Largent, 100 on the nose

8th. Tony Gonzalez, 111

7th. Antonio Gates, 116

6th. Larry Fitzgerald, 121

5th. Marvin Harrison, 128

4th, Cris Carter, 130

3rd. Terrell Owens, 153rd

2nd. Randy Moss, 156

1st. Jerry the G.O.A.T. Rice, 197

Holy cow, Jerry Rice was good.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they’re easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to [email protected].

What’s your favorite Bucs vs saints memory mine is when they got the playoff win in 2021?

– @danny__loves__sports (via Instagram)

That’s a good one, Danny. A real good one and obvious one of the freshest good memories from the series. Specifically the fondest memories I retain from that game were the Sean Murphy-Bunting interception and the Antoine Winfield Jr. forced fumble that Devin White picked up.

I’ll give you some of my runners-up before getting to my top answer. I’m only going to stick to events I was actually witness to when they happened, so even though I know the first win in franchise history was in New Orleans in 1977 and I can remember a number of facts and stats I’ve learned about that game, that doesn’t count. So we’re talking from 1992 on, because if I watched a Bucs-Saints prior to working here I sure as heck don’t remember doing so.

A recent one for me was the Ryan Fitzpatrick third-down scramble at the end of that 48-40 shootout in the Superdome in 2018. The Bucs seemed to have an ironclad lead when they were up 48-24 with 12 minutes left in the game. The Saints would need to get three touchdowns and three two-point conversions to tie the game, which seemed impossible. Well, they got two of the three, and pretty quickly, and suddenly it was 48-40 with 3:31 still left in the game. It felt like the game was slipping away and that was going to be one of the most gut-wrenching losses I had seen. Then Peyton Barber lost a yard on a pair of runs and a penalty flag stopped the clock so the Bucs were facing a third-and-11 with 2:42 left. I’m not sure how much the Tampa Bay defense had left in the tank at that point, and a punt would have given Drew Brees plenty of time to operate. Fortunately, FitzMagic saved the day by escaping out to the left and beating the closest defender to the stick for a first down that allowed the Bucs to go to the victory formation.

Roll it back seven years from that game and you have another win in the Superdome that was very memorable. I’m not going to spend much time on it because I actually wrote about it in last week’s column, where I called it the biggest upset win in Buccaneers history. It was in Week 16 and it pitted the 2-12 Buccaneers against the 13-1 Saints, who would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. My most specific memory of the game was a punt return for a touchdown by Micheal Spurlock that tied the game at 17-17 before the Bucs won it in overtime on a field goal.

It’s not one specific game but I fondly remember Simeon Rice terrorizing the Saints with a hot streak against them that spanned several seasons. Over the course of seven games from 2001-04, Rice racked up 12 sacks against the Saints, including three separate three-sack performances.

Late in the 2001 season the Buccaneers beat the pants off the Saints, 48-21, and it was a very entertaining game, especially if you were a Ronde Barber fan. Barber intercepted poor Aaron Brooks three times, returning the last one 36 yards for a touchdown (I had to look up the specifics of the play just now but I remembered it happening).

But it was a different three-interception game by Barber that is, somewhat inexplicably, my favorite memory from this series. It was in 2005 and the Saints were playing their games on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge because Hurricane Katrina had forced them to evacuate the Superdome and New Orleans. I don’t remember the final score (just looked it up – 10-3) but I do remember feeling like Barber was everywhere, just torturing Aaron Brooks again and again. As I said, he picked off three passes, returning them for a total of 70 yards. One of them set up the game’s only touchdown. Looking at the stats now, it doesn’t seem like it was a particularly entertaining game, but I still remember it fondly. Maybe it was the college atmosphere.

Who’s our worst divisional rival?

– @karlverinos (via Instagram)

Just to piggy-back on the last question real quick, I would say it’s probably the Saints. By “worst,” I assume you mean the team in the division you want to beat most badly and hate to lose to the most. That’s definitely the vibe I get from the business side of the team when we discuss games against our division foes, and judging from how frequently Bucs-Saints games get chippy compared to Bucs-Falcons and Bucs-Panthers, I think it’s probably true on the football side as well.

When is Carlton returning?

– @davidcortzz (via Instagram)

I don’t like to make predictions on when players will return from injuries because I feel like I get it wrong too often. However, things appear to be looking good for injured cornerback Carlton Davis based on his progression on the injury report. The Bucs had a walk-through on Wednesday but Davis was estimated to have been a limited participant if it had been a full-speed workout. On Thursday, he improved to full participation. Assuming no setbacks, that’s a positive sign for Sunday. Players who make that sort of progression and finish the week as full participants usually are able to suit up on Sunday.

Which players on the Saints do the Bucs need to shut down in order to come out with the win?

– Lili L. (via email to [email protected])

Usually when you talk about “shutting down” a player on an opposing team you’re talking about an offensive player that you need to keep from racking up a bunch of yards and touchdowns, but I’m going to look primarily at the Saints’ defense. The team’s 2-1 start has been a lot more about how well the defense is playing then the output of the offense. They’ve held all three of their opponents to 20 or fewer points and are in the top 10 in yards allowed yards per play allowed, rush defense, pass defense, interception rate, third-down defense and red zone defense.

The guys on that defense that worry me the most are Demario Davis, Cameron Jordan and Carl Granderson. The Bucs need to “shut down” Davis in terms of the big plays he makes – tackles for losses, takeaways, quarterback hits, etc. Then you have Jordan and Granderson coming off the edges. For Baker Mayfield and the Bucs’ offense to have a chance to get into a groove, the blockers need to shut down the pressure from those two. Jordan only has a half-sack so far but continues to play at a high level and is always dangerous. Granderson recently got a big new contract because the Saints see a player who is blossoming as a pass-rusher. He leads the Saints with 2.5 sacks this season.

I’ll give you one guy on offense, too, and it’s not Alvin Kamara. That’s no disrespect to Kamara, who has hurt the Bucs many, many times before (though much more often from 2017-19 than in the last three years). This will be his first game back from a suspension and I wonder if it might take him a bit to shake the rust off. Either way, I think the Bucs can weather the storm with him – Kamara can put up some decent numbers, but the defense can still hold the overall scoring down.

No, the guy that really worries me in this matchup is wide receiver Chris Olave. It looks like it’s going to be Jameis Winston under center for the Saints, and I remember a year ago when Winston tried to hit Olave, then a rookie in just his second NFL game, deep down the field over and over and over again. Those shots rarely hit, but one of them did for 51 yards. I expect Winston to try the same thing again this time around and the Buccaneers really need to limit the big plays in this one. Olave is a wonderful young receiver and I think he’s someone the Bucs are going to be worrying about for many years to come.

What stadium is the loudest you have been to?

– Gabe K. (via email to [email protected])

I did an informal poll of some of my coworkers here who go on the road trips, to see how their opinions matched up with mine. We agreed on a list of four possibilities: Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans and Seattle’s Lumen Field. (One person also noted Houston’s NRG Stadium, but none of the rest of us remember that one being particularly loud so I dismissed it from consideration.)

Within that list there was plenty of disagreement among us as to which should be at the top. The Minnesota experience is freshest in our minds and we get an irritating double-dose of the Superdome every season. That said, I think I’m going to go with Seattle in the top spot, though not by much. That’s pretty impressive given that it’s an outdoor stadium and I’m putting it ahead of two domes. Apparently Arrowhead holds the record for highest decibel reached, at 142.2, edging out Lumen, which has topped out at 137.6. The article from which I got those figures says that 137.6 decibels is the equivalent of an airplane taking off, so…

The last two times we’ve played at Arrowhead, dating back to 2008, the Bucs have won so maybe we just didn’t give those rabid Chiefs fans a chance to get into full throat. But everyone who went on the trips to Seattle in 2013 and 2019 remembers how crazy the noise got. Both of those games went to overtime so the stakes got very high and the crowd just kept getting louder. One of my respondents said it felt like the building was literally shaking.

What is your favorite part of Halloween?

– Max B. (via email to [email protected])

Full disclosure, this “email” came from inside the house and it’s an attempt to troll me because he knows my disdain for Halloween. It’s my least favorite holiday and it’s kind of a joke to even call it a ‘holiday.’ I don’t know how you can put it in the same category as Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. I’ll take Arbor Day instead, thank you.

Handing out candy to eager kids isn’t too bad, and some of the costumes are cute, but that’s about all I can say that’s positive. So, my favorite part of Halloween is when the Bucs are playing on the road that year and I don’t have to be a part of it. I know, I’m like the Scrooge of Halloween. Sorry.

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