TAMPA — The Bucs were lucky to be trailing the Saints by just two field goals late in the first quarter on Sunday, especially considering New Orleans had the ball for the entire quarter minus three plays.
Then one of the weirder plays you’d see led to an easy Saints touchdown that broke the game open before the second quarter began.
On their fifth offensive play of the day, the Bucs had second-and-10 at their own 16 when Winston threw a ball to tight end O.J. Howard going across the middle.
Howard initially had the ball cleanly, but as he attempted to tuck the ball away and make a move downfield, he lost it behind his back. Howard continued to try to gain possession of the ball behind his back, but lost it into the air as safety Marcus Williams hit him.
That gave linebacker Demario Davis a gift interception at the 17-yard line.
The Saints scored easily on the next play when Drew Brees found a wide-open Michael Thomas in the right side of the end zone, giving the Saints a 13-0.
The interception was Winston's 15th of the season, the most in the NFL, but the blame was clearly more on Howard for not being able to secure the pass.
Howard had a season-high seven targets and his first touchdown reception of the season it last week's win over Arizona, but his season has largely been a disappointment.
Ball security has been an issue for Howard, who was poised to have a breakout season this year.
Despite just 17 receptions over the season first nine games, Howard entered Sunday tied for the team-high with three drops, according to Fox Sports stats. Howard had just one drop in 10 games last season.
When asked why Howard hasn’t been a bigger part of the Bucs’ offense, coach Bruce Arians has said Howard hasn’t made the most of his chances and that drops have been an issue for Howard this season.
He also had a costly fumble that gave the ball away inside the red zone in the second quarter in the Bucs’ Week 1 home loss to San Francisco and then later in that quarter had a pass go off his hands that led to an interception.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInThYard.