BUCCANEERS (2-5) VS. SAINTS (5-2)
SUNDAY, 1 P.M. ET, MERCEDES-BENZ SUPERDOME, NEW ORLEANS
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