TAMPA — The Bucs' playoff hopes took a major hit with Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Saints, but here are five things you might have missed.
1 Mike Evans' disappearing act. The Saints covered Evans well enough that the Bucs didn't throw the ball his way even once in the first half. His first catch was a 4-yard gain on third and 6 as the Bucs were trying to drive for a tying touchdown in the third quarter.
With Vincent Jackson sidelined with a knee injury, the Bucs needed Evans to step up, but his total yards — 39 on three catches — were nearly offset by 25 yards in penalties, with an offensive pass interference (his fifth this season) and a personal foul for shoving a Saints player.
"I've got to be more mature," Evans said. "I'm a human being and when things that I can't control don't go my way, I get a little upset. … We went and scored on that drive, but I almost cost my team and I can't do that."
2 The Bucs can't win without takeaways. In the past three games, the Bucs' only one came on Lavonte David's clinching interception at the end of the win against the Falcons. On Sunday, as in the loss to the Colts, they had none. Lovie Smith is now 0-5 as Bucs coach when his team doesn't get at least one takeaway, and 4-16 overall as a head coach.
3 The offense isn't scoring enough. Sunday was the fifth time this season the Bucs scored at least 10 points fewer than their opponent gives up on average. They're 1-4 in those games, fortunate to have a 10-6 win over the Cowboys.
The breakout game against the Eagles is the only time in the past seven games the Bucs have scored more than 23. That includes two wins against a bad Falcons team, and it clearly puts far too much pressure on Tampa Bay's defense.
4 Injuries at receiver are catching up to the Bucs. Louis Murphy has been gone for six weeks, and when you add Vincent Jackson's knee injury, that means the Bucs are counting on undrafted rookies to make plays.
That can happen — see Adam Humphries' first career touchdown Sunday — but it also results in a drop like Donteea Dye had on the Bucs' last drive, on a very catchable pass that would have put Tampa Bay in Saints territory with momentum after a 24-yard Doug Martin run.
Humphries and Dye combined for two catches on six targets, but it was a quiet day for Bucs receivers in general — just six catches for 66 yards against the No. 31 pass defense in the NFL.
5 Tim Hightower? Really? Before stepping up for an injured Mark Ingram on Sunday, Hightower was an NFL afterthought. Out of football from 2012-14, he had 48 yards all season as an injury replacement, with 37 coming in the final four minutes of a blowout loss to Washington — literally just running out the clock at the end of a game.
That's what he did Sunday against the Bucs. Tampa Bay punted with 4:21 left, needing a stop to get the ball back, and Hightower — not Drew Brees — got the ball seven times in eight plays for gains of 6, 3, 4, 4, 7, 0 and 4 yards, including the clinching first down.
He scored the deciding touchdown — his first in the NFL since 2011, when Doug Martin was still in college. How does a guy like that get 28 carries, when Martin — the NFL's No. 2 rusher coming in — gets only 12 touches all day?
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.