With Evans and Godwin locked down, Bucs youngsters catch on
The only thing Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were catching in the first half Sunday was a lot of attention from the 49ers defense. With coverage rolling to the Bucs 'outside receivers, Evans had only two targets and Chris Godwin none in the first half of their 27-14 loss. Of course, Evans made the most of his only catch, pulling in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield.

But the Bucs were glad to see their rookie receivers step in and step up against one of the NFL's best defenses. Rookie Rakim Jarrett had a 41-yard reception in the second half. Trey Palmer had four catches for 22 yards. Deven Thompkins did not make a reception, but he pitched in with a career-best 51-yard punt return to give the Bucs a chance late in the game.

"We had a lot of young guys who were stepping up in a big way (Sunday)," Mayfield said. "It just happens when you have two studs like we do, they're going to try and take them away. So, it's vital for those (younger) guys to be ready for their opportunities, for them to know their assignments, know their adjustments on coverages, what we're going to get. That happened early in the game."

Mayfield said the 49ers defense naturally paid a lot of attention to Evans and Godwin, who eventually got more involved in the second half. Godwin led the Bucs with six catches for 39 yards, and Evans finished with five receptions for 43 yards on 12 targets. One of those incompletions came on fourth and 4 from the San Francisco 12.

But when the Bucs went more no-huddle in the second half, the 49ers played softer coverage. "What happened later in the game, it's just that when you're in tempo, they're not able to get to some of those specific coverages to take those guys away," Mayfield said. "So, that's when you want to take advantage of it, get the ball in their hands and let them do what they do best."

It didn't help Evans or Godwin that the Bucs had only three possessions and a kneel-down in the first half. "We couldn't stay on the field, No. 1," Todd Bowles said. "And then they stayed on the field a little longer in the second quarter than they normally did. We've got to get them opportunities, but at the same time we weren't jelling and getting everything together to give them opportunities, and we did a better job in the second half with that."

Mayfield finished 29-of-45 passing for 246 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Evans 'seventh TD reception tied him for second in the NFL this season. Jarrett's 41-yard catch was the longest by a Bucs receiver this season and the longest by a Tampa Bay rookie since Scotty Miller hauled in a 48-yarder in 2019.

Thompkins also contributed in the run game, with one carry for 17 yards. "There was six or seven minutes left. We had a chance there and didn't score," Godwin said. "Then, D.T. (Thompkins) had a really good return there, and if we score there it's a six-point ballgame."

Rick Stroud, The Tampa Bay Times, published 20 November 2023