TAMPA — Mike Evans celebrates touchdown catches by shadow boxing, a two-fisted bout against air that ends with him using a devastating uppercut for the knockout blow.
But when he plays against Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, a real heavyweight fight ensues until one or both players are sent to their corners.
Last September, early in the fourth quarter of a 3-3 tie at New Orleans, tempers flared after Lattimore pushed running back Leonard Fournette and got into the face of quarterback Tom Brady.
The tale of the tape gives the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Evans an advantage over the 6-foot, 192-pound Lattimore. The Bucs receiver used it to shoulder check Lattimore to the turf, and both players were ejected from the game.
“It gets spicy when you come to New Orleans,” Evans said after the game, which the Bucs won 20-10.
It didn’t end there. Evans was suspended for the next game, a 14-12 loss to Green Bay. It was the third such altercation for Evans involving Lattimore in his career.
The fines alone have cost Evans $102,810 over the years.
The Brawl in ‘Nawlins should be introduced by Michael Buffer as they get ready to rumble Sunday. But the player assigned to be the real buffer between the Evans and Lattimore is left tackle Tristan Wirfs. He received those instructions as a rookie from third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin.
“Griff told me that my rookie year. He said, ‘Go get Mike after every play,’ ” Wirfs said. “So I’ll have my hands full. ... I’ve got to make sure everyone is all right.”
Evans declined to be interviewed prior to Sunday’s game at New Orleans, which is not his custom.
But he isn’t the only one to blame for these heated encounters. Former Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was barking at Lattimore from the sidelines during that same September game about getting away with what he thought was pass interference.
Arians got a stern letter from the NFL about controlling their sideline and watched the rest of the games from a sky suite.
“I know we were trying to get a flag called and he wasn’t calling it,” Evans said last year of his scuffle with Lattimore. “All I see is Lattimore — he punched (Fournette) in the face or something like that. Then, like, pushed Tom (Brady). That’s all I saw. I just pushed him.”
Evans and Lattimore had two prior altercations. The first occurred in November 2017. Lattimore got into a shouting match with then-Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who was on the sideline at the time with shoulder soreness. Winston shoved his finger into the back of Lattimore’s helmet and he retaliated by pushing Winston in the chest.
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That’s when Evans charged off the field and blindsided Lattimore in the back. Neither player was ejected but Evans was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Evans later was suspended one game by the league.
In September 2020, Lattimore and Evans were hand-fighting during pass plays the whole game. Lattimore became frustrated and shoved Evans after a 6-yard run by Fournette. That time, Lattimore incurred the personal foul and was fined.
Teammates are keenly aware that Evans is easily triggered by Lattimore, but they really don’t talk to him about it. In his last six regular-season meetings with New Orleans, Evans has averaged only 2.5 receptions for 41.3 yards and two touchdowns.
“To be honest, there’s not really anything to say to Mike,” fellow receiver Chris Godwin said. “He’s a pro. We understand his past with this team but we also know he’s not going in there with the intention to hurt himself or the team. There’s nothing really to be said. He knows what he has to do. Every time we go in there, the goal is to win the game and Mike being on the field really helps us.”
Of course, Evans is off to a tremendous start this season, which could be his final one in Tampa Bay with contract talks non-existent in the offseason.
Evans ranks eighth in the NFL with 297 receiving yards and is tied for second with three touchdowns.
“I feel like it may be one of the hottest starts he’s had but he’s always been the same Mike, you know?” Godwin said. “Whenever he goes out there, he’s always trying to take advantage of the opportunities and he always has the ability to go deep and make some big splash plays. Those opportunities have presented themselves this season and he’s taken advantage of a lot of them and we don’t expect anything different this season moving forward. He’s the consummate pro.”
Coach Todd Bowles said it’s the competitiveness between Evans and Lattimore, a four-time Pro Bowler and 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, that leads to so many post-whistle encounters.
“Anytime you’ve got two great players and they want to compete, both want to win,” Bowles said. “As long as they play within the whistle, that’s fine.”
But there is an undeniable rivalry between the Bucs and Saints that is unlike anything else in the NFC South. Perhaps it’s because they have combined to win the last six division titles.
“Typically, when you have the two best teams (in the division), you’re going to be trading blows,” Godwin said. “... It’s always a fun time whenever we get to play the Saints. When you go into that stadium, you know what you’re getting into. Those fans have that stadium rocking. There’s no windows in there. It’s like they go and they lock the doors behind you.
“It’s just you and your guys going to battle and let’s figure it out.”
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