NEW ORLEANS — The Bucs were quick to point out Mike Evans' contributions in their 34-23 loss to the Saints, even if they didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Yes, Evans — who played despite a hamstring issue that kept him out of practice through most of the game week — drew two key defensive pass interference penalties that accounted for 77 yards on two separate touchdown drives. But the Bucs' best receiver clearly has a Saints problem.
To quote a certain former Bucs quarterback: check your sheet.
Evans had just one catch Sunday, a 2-yard touchdown reception with 2:41 remaining in the game and any hope of a win pretty much out of reach. He was held without a catch for the game’s first 47 minutes and was only targeted four times (not counting the penalties).
“When you get that many pass interference calls, those are yards, they’re not catches,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “They don’t go in the stats, but he had a 100-yard game easily just with the pass interference penalties. He’s going to catch those balls so we’ll throw them. I don’t think Mike was bothered that much (by the hamstring). We were kind of watching him as much as we could.”
On the Bucs' opening drive, Evans drew a 22-yard pass interference call on cornerback Marshon Lattimore on a deep sideline route. That put the Bucs in the red zone to set up their first touchdown.
The biggest gain on the Bucs' third-quarter touchdown drive was a 47-yard pass interference penalty on safety Marcus Williams on a deep ball that put Tampa Bay at New Orleans' 30.
But Sunday marked just the sixth time in Evans' 91-game NFL career in which he’s been held to one catch or fewer, and four of those games came against the Saints. Three of them came with Lattimore lined up against him, including the last time the Bucs visited the Superdome in 2019, when Evans was held without a catch for just the second time in his career.
The Saints — and specifically Lattimore — have figured out how to stop Evans. And surely they will take a couple of pass interference calls and a garbage-time touchdown against one of the league’s best receivers.
Evans and Lattimore have had an intense rivalry, and tempers flared between the two early Sunday. Following a second-quarter, 6-yard run by Leonard Fournette, Lattimore became irritated and shoved Evans in the back, with Evans retaliating by knocking Lattimore’s helmet off. Lattimore was called for a 15-yard personal foul.
Brady — who built a strong chemistry with Evans throughout training camp — struggled to get him the ball. Brady’s first of two interceptions was intended for Evans, but there was clearly a miscommunication. The pass over the middle was picked off by Williams.
“He had two huge plays,” Brady said of the pass interference calls. “I know they don’t count in the stat book, but I don’t know how many yards of penalties that is. But 80-90 yards, it’s as good as a catch.”
Chris Godwin led the Bucs with six catches for 79 yards. Scotty Miller had five catches for 73 yards, including a 37-yard reception, the Bucs' longest pass gain of the day.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.