Saints defense humbled by Buccaneers
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore sat on the turf with his hands on his knees, disconsolate as he watched Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans coast into the end zone after beating him for a 50-yard touchdown.
It was a stark contrast to last November, when Evans caught one pass for 13 yards and received a one-game suspension after blindsiding Lattimore during a scuffle in the Saints' 30-10 victory at the Superdome.
This time, the Buccaneers' offense socked the Saints play after play after play. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns while compiling a nearly perfect quarterback rating in Tampa Bay's 48-40 victory in New Orleans on Sunday.
Evans, covered primarily by Lattimore, was targeted seven times and caught all seven throws for 147 yards. DeSean Jackson added five receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a new feeling for Lattimore, the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"It isn't going to get me down," he said. "Everybody gets beat. We needed to get slapped in our face one good time to see we're not on a level we think we're on."
New Orleans, the defending NFC South champion, looked like the Super Bowl contender it expected to be on its opening drive, cruising 71 yards in six plays for a touchdown to go ahead 7-0.
Then, the defense took the field.
Jackson caught an easy 58-yard touchdown pass against a busted coverage on the Bucs' fourth play, setting the tone.
The Bucs punted only once, and that came because Fitzpatrick overthrew a wide-open Chris Godwin after cornerback Ken Crawley fell. The only other times they did not score were on a missed field goal and when Fitzpatrick took a knee to run out the clock at the end of the first half and the fourth quarter.
"We have to wipe our minds clean of this catastrophe that just happened," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "We have to push forward."
The Saints never sacked Fitzpatrick. He threw for scores of 58, 50, 36 and 9 yards, completed five more passes for at least 20 yards and had another one_a 65-yarder down the sideline to Adam Humphries_negated by an illegal block.
Fitzpatrick, starting because Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games under the NFL's personal conduct clause, had a quarterback rating of 156.2, just shy of the maximum 158.3.
"We couldn't stop anything," Lattimore said after New Orleans lost its season opener for the fifth straight season. "That's not going to get it done."
Drew Brees and the Saints offense matched Tampa Bay for a while, going ahead 17-14 on a 28-yard pass to Ted Ginn. But the Bucs kept scoring while New Orleans committed two costly turnovers.
Evans' long touchdown on Lattimore gave Tampa Bay a 41-24 lead with 2:58 left in the second quarter. He caught the ball at the 12 as Lattimore dived for him, but could not catch him.
"I have to be there," Lattimore said. "I'm all on an island by myself with no help. I'm a shutdown corner. I'm going to be frustrated every time somebody catches a pass on me."
There was plenty of frustration to go around on a day New Orleans wasted 485 yards of offense. After the Saints scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and a pair of 2-point conversions to close the gap to 48-40, Fitzpatrick scrambled for 12 yards on third-and-11, allowing the Bucs to run out the clock.
It was Tampa Bay's eighth conversion in 13 third-down opportunities.
"Take your pick," Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked what went wrong defensively. "We did not hurry the passer. Guys were open. Third downs were awful. They had over 500 yards. We didn't disrupt the timing to any element of the passing game and (had) too many penalties.
"I can't think of any positives."
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