NEW ORLEANS — At no point in the Bucs' five straight losses did players' frustration show as badly as during the third quarter of Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Saints.
Wide receiver Mike Evans blindsided Marshon Lattimore after the Saints cornerback shoved quarterback Jameis Winston, who was out of the game with an injury but came off the sideline during a dead-ball period and forcefully poked the back of Lattimore's helmet, sparking the altercation.
The Bucs were down 30-3 and had an incompletion on third down near their sideline. Winston said he was telling Lattimore to go to his sideline.
Winston went onto the field, pointing toward the Saints sideline, then with his left index finger vigorously poked Lattimore in the back of the cornerback's helmet. Lattimore shoved Winston with a single hand, then Evans came in from behind, hitting Lattimore fiercely and knocking him to the ground.
Evans, a team captain, was not ejected but was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. It's still possible he will be fined, if not suspended, for blindsiding an opponent.
"I let my emotions get the best of me," Evans said. "I thought (Lattimore) was picking a fight with my quarterback. It's something I shouldn't have done. It was very childish. I shouldn't have done that. Unprofessional."
Winston, who was on the sideline for the second half after reinjuring his shoulder, wasn't apologetic for his involvement. He said he was telling Lattimore to go to his sideline and that Evans responded when "Marshon Lattimore pushed his quarterback."
Saints coach Sean Payton was surprised that Evans wasn't ejected.
"If there's not an ejection in that situation, then I don't know when there's supposed to be an ejection," he said.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he didn't see the interaction or Evans' hit.
"That is definitely not the way we want to represent ourselves, if it was, in fact, the way that I was told," Koetter said.
Evans was held to one catch for 13 yards on six targets, with Lattimore as part of the Saints' coverage of him. The first-round rookie, a major part of the Saints' six-game winning streak, said Evans' hit motivated him to play better.
"I get it. They're frustrated," Lattimore said. "I wanted to go at him after that. I was glad he wasn't ejected. (Winston) pushed the back of my head. I don't play that, so I had to retaliate. Then Mike Evans came and snapped me from behind."
Evans acknowledged the possibility of a suspension for what he did, reiterating an awareness, too, that he should not have acted as rashly.
"I want to play. I want to help my team. The league's going to do what they're going to do," he said. "I shouldn't have done that. That was kind of malicious. I shouldn't have hit him in his back like that. I should have just shoved him away, tried to break it up. I reacted too quick."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.