Many faces have come and gone from One Bills Drive since 2004 when
Sunday the seventh-year receiver from Wisconsin will play in his 100th career game when the Bills host the New York Jets, without missing any due to injury, and starting all but seven.
The fifth-longest-tenured player on the team, Evans said it’s truly a blessing to have longevity in a league where the average career length is three-and-a-half years.
“I’m not putting myself on their level, but you look at guys … like (Brett) Favre, (who’s) the steel standard, (and it’s) just amazing to even have the opportunity to play this game for 100 games,” Evans said.
“He’s not one of these guys that does a whole bunch of talking; he lets his play speak for him and that’s the best thing you want from a player,” Wilson said. “You don’t want somebody who’s always (just) a happy-go-lucky guy or a rah-rah guy when everything’s going good, but Lee handles the good (and) the bad, and treats them both the same.”
Evans is among the Bills’ all-time leaders in several receiving categories, ranking third in yards (5,444) and touchdowns (39), and fourth in receptions (349). His six career touchdowns of 70-plus yards have him tied with Randy Moss and Terrell Owens for the league lead since 2000.
Despite all his statistical achievements, Evans remains unheralded in popular opinion. Wilson said although Evans isn’t always mentioned with the cream-of-the-crop NFL receivers, his teammates and opponents alike know what a playmaker he is.
“Being in a small market and not having the success that we would like to have, it’s definitely kept Lee a bit under the radar,” Wilson said. “But every time you turn the film on, he draws coverage, he draws the double team, he draws the safety over the top. As his teammates, we know Lee’s always going to be up, ready and prepared when Sunday comes around.”
Arguably Evans’ most memorable game was a 2006 win at Houston, when he caught two 83-yard touchdown passes from J.P. Losman in the first quarter of a 24-21 win, before finishing the day with 11 receptions for a team-record 265 yards.
Evans said the real highlight of that game was Losman’s game-winning 15-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price with 13 seconds remaining.
“I put up a lot of numbers, but it was a fun game because we won (and because of) the fashion that we won,” Evans said. “Having to go through a two-minute drill, drive down the field (and) throw a touchdown in the back of the end zone to win.”
Teammates didn’t shy away from lauding Evans’ highlights that day.
“It was definitely, in my opinion, Lee’s premiere game as a Buffalo Bill,” Wilson said. “He really took that game over and made their defense have to account for him every time. He really did a great job of stretching the field and it was a career day for him.”
“He’s one of those receivers … you’ve got to keep an eye on every down, and when the game’s on the line you’ve got to get guys like him the ball and that’s what happened that day,” Kelsay said. “Even though it was a long time ago, it was probably one of my first impressions of him and one that’ll hang with me for a while.”
Evans has had plenty of great individual moments in his career – like three touchdowns in one quarter at Miami in 2005, or his one-handed touchdown grab on the side of his helmet against San Diego in 2008 – but said his memories would be much sweeter if the team finds success during his career.
"There are a number of games that come to mind, big plays that come to mind,” Evans said. “The bottom line is there’s been a ton of good plays, but right now the priority is trying to turn those plays in to wins, and those wins in to successful seasons.”
Evans compared this year’s 0-3 squad to his rookie-year team. The 2004 Bills started 0-4, but won nine out of their next 11 games and only missed out on the playoffs after a loss to Pittsburgh in the season finale.
The 29-24 home loss to a Steelers team resting many of its starters is the closest Evans has been to reaching the playoffs in his career.
“Knocking on the door, having to win one football game to go to the playoffs, (and losing) is pretty tough,” he said.
Despite the shortage of wins, and through all the personnel turnover he has seen during his time in Buffalo, Evans has always been known for his unselfishness and optimism.
“Last week we were talking about how we started kind of slow (in 2004) like how we are now, and found it and got on a roll,” Evans said. “Things aren’t lost. We’re still positive because we’ve been there before.”