The Denver Broncos are impressed with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, a couple of rising young stars who are transforming the identity of the once-plodding Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Winston, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, is tied for the NFL lead with eight touchdown passes.
Evans, the second-year pro’s favorite target, leads the NFC with 21 catches and is the only Bucs receiver to begin a season with TD receptions in three consecutive games.
“I see a confident quarterback. He’s confident in his arm, and he’s trying to make all of the throws,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said, adding the faith Winston has in Evans is evident, too.
“He’s a talented guy. Big, fast, he goes in that Calvin Johnson category, that Julio Jones’ category. The big, fast guys (with) the big catch radius,” Talib added. “His quarterback definitely trusts him. His quarterback gives him opportunities to make plays.”
Containing one of the league’s up-and-coming passing combinations figures to be one of the keys to the Broncos (3-0) remaining unbeaten when the reigning Super Bowl champions visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The Bucs (1-2) have lost two straight, with Winston attempting 52 passes during a 41-7 loss at Arizona two weeks ago, and 58 more while throwing for a career-best 405 yards in a 37-32 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Tampa Bay’s home opener.
Coach Dirk Koetter knows that’s too many times to put the ball in the air, especially against a defense as talented as the Broncos , who are second in the league with 12 sacks.
But with running back Doug Martin sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Bucs have had little choice except to try to ride Winston’s arm.
“He likes to throw it all over the field and he is not shy about letting it go,” Denver safety T.J. Ward said. “It should create a lot of opportunities for us.”
Winston and Evans relish the opportunity Tampa Bay has in facing the defending NFL champions.
Koetter came away from last week’s loss talking about the need to change the culture of a team that has a knack for doing whatever it takes to lose.
“It’s an elusive thing. It’s not something you can just reach out and put your finger on,” Koetter said. “I just don’t feel like we should sit back and pretend it doesn’t exist.”
Neither does Winston, who embraces the challenge presented by the Broncos.
“I’m really excited because this is a great team, it’s a great franchise, and who else should we play but these guys?” Winston said. “This is a great opportunity that we’re given.”
Some things to know about the Broncos and Buccaneers:
SIEMIAN THRIVING: QB Trevor Siemian is trying to extend Denver’s NFL-best eight-game winning streak. Last week he became the first player in league history to throw for at least 300 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first road start. He’s led winning drives in two of the Broncos’ three games and has a league-best fourth-quarter passer rating of 146.9. This week he faces a team that’s yielded an NFL-high 101 points .
BIG MIKE: Evans’ 301 receiving yards are the most for a Tampa Bay receiver through three games. He and Winston spent extra time working together during the offseason, and they believe it’s making a difference. The 6-foot-5, 231-pound third-year pro, who topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons, certainly has caught the attention of Talib. “With receivers, there are some guys where you either have this huge catch radius or you don’t,” the Broncos star said. “There’s nothing you can learn in the NFL. If you go watch Evans’ tape from seventh or eighth grade, I bet he’s doing the same thing, catching jump balls, running past people, catching deep balls. It’s just that catch radius that makes him special.”
SPEAKING OF TALIB: The Broncos cornerback was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2008 and had 16 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) in four-plus seasons with Tampa Ba. The Bucs traded him to New England during the 2012 season. He returns to Tampa for the first time with 31 interceptions — most by a cornerback since he entered the league. His nine returned for TDs put him tied for fourth all-time. “He is as advertised,” Winston said. “Man, he has great ball skills.”
NO MORE GRIPING: Broncos WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas both complained about not getting enough throws/work in Weeks 1 and 2. Last week, Siemian hit Sanders nine times for 117 yards and two TDs, while Thomas had six receptions for 100 yards and his first TD of the season. Understandably, there’s been no more griping from those guys.