Mike Evans grew up in Texas, but was never much of a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
So when Tampa Bay’s second-year receiver faces “America’s Team” for the first time Sunday, it’ll be special for him in a different way. He’s eager to make the most of an opportunity to atone for a sloppy performance the former Texas A&M star feels cost the Buccaneers (3-5) a victory last week.
Evans matched a personal best with eight receptions for 152 yards, but pinned a 32-18 loss to the New York Giants on himself after hurting his team’s chances with six drops.
“It’s very hard having a historically bad day when it should have been a historically great day,” Evans said. “But I can’t keep whining about it. I’ve got to put it in the back of my mind and go play.”
The Cowboys (2-6) have lost six consecutive games without injured quarterback Tony Romo, the team’s longest skid since a six-game streak bridging the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Matt Cassel will make his fourth start for Dallas since being brought in to help the team stay afloat until Romo returns from a broken left collarbone.
“One of the things we have to do as coaches is really focus on how we’re playing more than the result of the games,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett added.
“Obviously we all want the results, we all want to win. That’s why we do this. But I think you get better when you’re focused on how you’re doing things and ways that you can get better.”
The Jameis Winston-led Bucs are 2-2 over the past four games and have no one but themselves to blame for not being .500 overall at the season’s midpoint.
The rookie quarterback has not turned the ball over in a month, however Tampa Bay is the second-most penalized club in the NFL and continues to make other costly mistakes, too.
Evans is only the latest culprit.
With veteran Vincent Jackson sidelined by a knee injury, Winston targeted Evans 19 times against the Giants. And while the 6-foot-5 receiver amassed the third-highest yardage total of his career, his miscues contributed to the Bucs settling for field goals on three of four trips inside the New York 11-yard line.
Evans, who has 32 receptions for 538 yards and one touchdown, attributed his difficulties mostly to wet conditions and humidity. He said one bad day hasn’t affected his confidence.
“I’ve just got to keep working,” the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft said. “I’ve done some good things. My bad days are 150 (yards), so that’s all right. If I can improve on that, that would be great.”
Here are some things to know about Sunday’s game:
CASSEL’S LAST STAND: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones strongly suggested this week that Tony Romo would start as soon as he is eligible to return from a broken left collarbone next week at Miami. Jones also rejected the notion that the Cowboys would sit Romo even when he’s healthy. So that means this is likely the last of four starts for Matt Cassel, barring another Romo injury. Cassel and Brandon Weeden are each 0-3 filling in. “Obviously Tony is coming back next week and when he gets back, he’s back,” Cassel said. “But at the same time, I would love to finish on a winning note.”
TRENDING UP: Since throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble during a 14-point loss to Carolina on Oct. 4, Jameis Winston has thrown for four TDs, run for two more during a four-game stretch in which Tampa Bay’s rookie quarterback has not had a turnover. “Very impressed with what he has done,” Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said. “As we go through this second half of the season, we’re going to need all of our players, especially our best players, to elevate their game.”
100-YARD CLUB: Dallas couldn’t beat the Eagles last week despite 100-yard games from running back Darren McFadden, his second in three weeks, and receivers Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley. Bryant had his first touchdown of the season in the All-Pro’s second game back after missing five with a broken right foot. Beasley had career highs with nine catches for 112 yards. His two touchdowns matched his best from last season against Chicago.
FIND A WAY: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay’s three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, says he needs to do more to help the Bucs be successful. He has four tackles and no sacks over the past three games, two of them losses. “I have to find a way to get it done and I’ve never been one to run from any challenge or not know how to fight through adversity,” said McCoy, who’s been hampered since Week 2 by a shoulder injury.
NO BIG PLAYS: The Dallas defense hasn’t made critical stops during the losing streak, and part of the problem is big plays. While the team’s sack total of 14 is better at this point than it was last season, the four takeaways are tied for last with Baltimore. The Cowboys are also tied for last with Detroit in turnover margin at minus-9. Dallas was among the NFL leaders with 31 takeaways last season.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.