BUC­CA­NEERS (2-5) VS. SAINTS (5-2)

SUN­DAY, 1 P.M. ET, MERCEDES-BENZ SUPERDOME, NEW OR­LEANS

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Brian Allee-Walsh

An­nounc­ers: Thom Bren­na­man, Chris Spiel­man, Peter Schrager

About the Buc­ca­neers: A once promis­ing sea­son seems to be slip­ping away in a los­ing streak that has reached four in a row and five of team’s last six. Fran­chise QB Jameis Win

ston is ham­pered by an in­jured throw­ing arm, sug­gest­ing the free fall isn’t over. Af­ter the lat­est loss — 17-3 to vis­it­ing Carolina that trig­gered boos from the home crowd and apolo­gies from Win­ston — head coach Dirk

Koet­ter warned his play­ers not to point fin­gers. But, “if they need to point fin­gers,” he said, “point them at me.” Al­ready three games out of the di­vi­sion lead and bring­ing up the rear, the Bucs need to right their list­ing ship as soon as pos­si­ble. A year ago, they started 3-5 be­fore go­ing on a five-game win­ning streak.

About the Saints: Though QB Drew Brees failed to throw a pass­ing touch­down at home for only the sec­ond time in eight years, the Saints ex­tended their win­ning streak to five with an ugly 20-12 win over the punch­less Chicago Bears. They re­main atop the NFC South, thanks largely to a re­silient de­fense and un­sung spe­cial teams, specif­i­cally K Wil Lutz and P Thomas Morstead. For the first time since 2013, the Saints are play­ing com­ple­men­tary foot­ball on a weekly ba­sis and find­ing ways to win games. “I think in the past there’s been very lit­tle room for er­ror,” Brees said. “We’re not play­ing any­where near our best foot­ball, but we’re win­ning in dif­fer­ent ways.”

Matchup to watch: Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Saints rookie CB Marshon Lat­ti­more. Lat­ti­more, the 11th over­all draft pick in 2017, leads the Saints with two in­ter­cep­tions, in­clud­ing a game-pre­serv­ing theft against Chicago. He will be giv­ing up five inch-

es to the 6-foot-5 Evans. Evans has at least 60 re­ceiv­ing yards in ev­ery game and has been tar­geted 68 times in seven games. Player to watch: Saints RB Mark In

gram. He lost two fum­bles in the fourth quar­ter on Chicago’s side of the field, help­ing keep the Bears in strik­ing dis­tance. Af­ter the sec­ond mis­cue, coach Sean Pay­ton ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure and in­serted rookie RB Alvin

Ka­mara in the game to run out the clock. Last sea­son, Pay­ton benched In­gram af­ter los­ing a fum­ble that was re­turned for a touch­down

against Seat­tle in Week 8. “Mark will bounce back,” Brees said. “I know he will.”

Num­ber crunch­ing: 7. Sacks al­lowed by Saints, fewest in the NFL, de­spite be­ing forced to play with a patch­work of­fen­sive line each week be­cause of in­juries. The Saints are ex­pected to be with­out RG Larry War­ford for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive week be­cause of an ab­dom­i­nal strain. Start­ing RT Zach Strief (knee) re­mains on in­jured re­serve. KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Med­i­cal watch: If Win­ston strug­gles against the Saints, don’t be sur­prised if Koet­ter goes to vet­eran backup Ryan Fitz­patrick. Win­ston sus­tained a sprained shoul­der in Week 6 against Ari­zona and a bruised del­toid a week later against Buf­falo.

2. Ap­ply heat: Af­ter com­mit­ting just three turnovers (three in­ter­cep­tions in Week 2) in the Bucs’ first five games, Win­ston has turned it over five times in the last two games.

3. Un­leash Martin: Though the Saints de­fense has been solid over­all, it has yielded back-to-back 100-yard rush­ing games to Green Bay RB Aaron Jones (131) and Chicago RB Jor­dan Howard (102). The Bucs’ ground game has yet to get un­tracked with RB

Doug Martin, who leads the team with 247 yards rush­ing and two TDs.

4. Reach pay­dirt: The Bucs of­fense ranks among the league lead­ers in to­tal yards and pass­ing yards and has moved the chains be­tween the 20s un­der Win­ston but has failed to score an of­fen­sive TD in the first half in three games run­ning.

Buc­ca­neers’ Jameis Win­ston KIM KLEMENT, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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