If I told you that Mike Evans would have two catches for 28 yards and wouldn’t score, you’d probably ask “how many yards did Chris Godwin have?” Great question. Godwin finished with three catches for 53 yards. Five receptions for 81 yards would have been the stat line most San Francisco 49ers fans guessed for Evans. That was the total for Tampa Bay’s top two receivers.
We can thank Nick Bosa and Dee Ford for continually collapsing the pocket. We can also thank Ahkello Witherspoon, who had an interception returned for a touchdown, but equally as important—as that was more a gift than him making a good play—Witherspoon broke up a couple of passes. There weren’t the same mental mistakes we saw in 2018. Richard Sherman touched on Witherspoon’s performance:
“Ahkello is the same player, don’t get me wrong. He was a good player last year. It’s just his mentality, and his approach has changed. He was a talented, incredible player last year. He had a few bad plays and a few mistakes here and there, and he was a victim of just some busts, some coverage busts, where the touchdown or the play wasn’t even necessarily his fault. It was, hey, the safety was supposed to be there. He’s not there, or this happened, or we called it different coverage.
But this year, he’s learned to overcome those things mentally. He’s learned to just fight through and not let it emotionally hijack him. Like he’s just, ‘Next play. I’m going to do my job the next play regardless of what happened on the previous play.’ He could have had a pick-six, or he could have had a touchdown. He’s going to get past it; he’s going to play great the next play, and that’s growth.
He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time, and I’m just so proud of him today and the way he battled, and the way he showed up.”
Witherspoon played fast. He runs fast, but last year he seemed hesitant. That was not the case against Mike Evans, who he was able to knock the ball away from on a route. ‘Spoon was the highest graded player from PFF, at 80.8. He was targeted six times, broke up two passes, and only allowed 21 yards. That’s good for a passer rating of 4.9.
It was a tough test for the cornerbacks, and they passed. They’ll go from a pair of big, physical receivers that the Bucs have, to smaller, shifty receivers in Cincy. I wonder if that will lead to Jason Verrett being active. We’ll see, but it was nice to see the secondary take advantage of plays they didn’t last season and complement the pass rush.