Mike Evans vs. Marshon Lattimore is a fight that needs its own referee

The Bucs receiver has been ejected from a game and suspended twice for his encounters with the Saints defensive back.
Published Dec. 2, 2022|Updated Dec. 4, 2022

TAMPA ― When Bucs receiver Mike Evans and Saints defensive back Marshon Lattimore square off on the football field, there is a different kind of box score to check in the morning.

They have had three fights since 2017, with Evans being slapped with one-game suspensions as the result of his actions in two of them.

The latest occurred during the Bucs’ 20-10 win over the Saints in Week 2.

Following a deep pass intended for Scotty Miller early in the fourth quarter, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady raced downfield to argue for an interference call. Lattimore was jawing with the Bucs sideline, including former coach Bruce Arians, and flung his arm up dismissively as Brady passed by.

As Brady stepped toward Lattimore, Bucs running back Leonard Fournette pushed Lattimore aside. Lattimore shoved Fournette up high, and Evans charged from near the sideline and knocked Lattimore to the turf, setting off a benches-clearing brawl.

Both Evans and Lattimore were ejected, and Evans was suspended for his role in the melee.

In 2017, Lattimore confronted Jameis Winston after the then-Bucs quarterback poked him in the back of the helmet after a play. After Lattimore shoved Winston away, Evans arrived in a dead sprint and blindsided Lattimore from behind.

That also cost Evans a one-game suspension.

Another bout could occur on “Monday Night Football,” when the Saints visit the Bucs. Lattimore was limited in practice Thursday with an abdominal injury but is expected to play in the game.

Why does Lattimore bring out the worst in Evans and vice versa?

“We’re two competitors. Two competitors, two of the best in the business, and we go at it,” Evans said. “We get physical, and it’s a good matchup.

“I just play my game. I just can’t, like, shove somebody out there. I’ve just got to keep my emotions in check and just play hard, like I always do.”

That’s nearly the identical thing Evans said prior to the game with the Saints earlier this season, but it wound up costing him a game check of $62,222, which could have been much more had he not restructured his contract.

“Well, they’re both competitive,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “They both want to be great. Mike is very competitive. Marshon is very competitive. They both want to be the best in the league, and when you get two guys going at it like that, bringing out the best in each other, you’ve just got to make sure it’s clean.

“They’re both physical. Anytime you get somebody up there against Mike that’s physical, he’s going to try to be physical right back. It’s part of the game.”

Despite having eclipsed 10,000 career receiving yards in Sunday’s 23-17 loss at Cleveland, Evans was held to only two receptions on nine targets.

In fact, Evans and Brady have not really been that in sync since the 29-year-old receiver dropped a pass for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 23. He bounced back with a huge game the next week, recording six catches for 123 yards in a loss to the Ravens.

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But in the past three games, Evans has averaged only 41.6 yards. Last Sunday, Brady missed Evans on a couple of throws, including one he caught but was ruled out of bounds.

“I had a lot of go routes,” Evans said. “A lot of fade-and-go routes, and (No.) 23 (cornerback Martin Emerson Jr.) played it good. He was over the top, soft press, and we just didn’t connect. I definitely caught one. It didn’t count. But I’ve got to get more separation like I’m used to.”

Is Brady making bad reads or throws to Evans?

“He’s reading it right,” Evans said. “It’s on me. Definitely.

“Obviously, practice helps. We’ve been getting some good reps in, but it’s a game of inches. Everything matters. I have to be better. I’m used to getting 2 or 3 yards separation on most of my routes. I’ve got to get back to that.”

The Bucs’ passing game should be benefit from getting some players back healthy, such as wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Cameron Brate. But they haven’t had that breakout passing game, and the Saints defense has had Tampa Bay’s number for several years. New Orleans has won its last four games at Raymond James Stadium.

“Whoever wins the turnover battle usually wins this ballgame,” Bowles said. “When they have more than us, they win. When we’ve had more than them, we’ve won. That’s really kind of it. Two tough teams going at it. They know us, we know them. It’s whoever makes the most mistakes.”

Hopefully, Evans can keep his emotions in check if he encounters Lattimore, as expected.

But even if the matchup is reduced to hand-fighting, it’s a one-on-one battle worth watching.

“It’s always a great battle, and of course we believe Mike is going to get the best of (Lattimore),” Miller said. “They’re both big, physical guys that like to get after it. But anytime Mike can get a one-on-one, we know he’s going to win.

“He’s a very emotional player, but that’s what makes him great. It’s one of those matchups you definitely have to get the popcorn ready for.”

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