Bucs overcome injuries to snap seven-game losing streak to Saints

There is no way to win a game like Sunday’s without the right mental makeup. The Bucs, 2-0 and alone atop the NFC South standings, had to overcome so much, like playing without injured wideouts Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Julio Jones (knee), losing Evans, not having center Ryan Jensen (knee), losing third-down back Gio Bernard to injury, having running back Leonard Fournette playing on a bad hamstring, losing a fumble at the Saints’ 26, and being stopped on fourth-and-1 at New Orleans’ 8. But as I walked away, one thought kept gnawing at me:

Can the Bucs continue to win games while losing players?

They lost Jensen in training camp. Jones and Godwin, plus left tackle Donovan Smith (elbow), were inactive. They lost replacement tackle Josh Wells (calf) and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (foot) to injury just before the half. And they are relying on a handful of guys who are playing through physical ailments, like Fournette and Evans.

For the time being, the attrition has not affected them in terms of wins and losses — and perhaps it won’t as long as their defense continues to show out. When you have a unit as good as Tampa Bay has, you should be in every game.

Brady will get a lot of platitudes for his touchdown throw to Perriman — and he should — but he would not have meant anything if not for the dominance of Tampa’s defense, which gave up a field goal on its opening series, then shut down the Saints.

Tampa Bay’s final seven defensive series ended accordingly: fumble recovery, interception, interception, interception return for touchdown, Saints touchdown, fumble recovery, downs. The Saints had eight offensive possessions in the second half; only one lasted longer than six plays — and even that nine-play sequence ended with New Orleans losing a fumble.

“It just shows the resiliency, the heart, that a lot of guys have,” said linebacker Lavonte David. “It goes back to complementary football. When we’re out there, we always say we’re battling against the opponent’s defense as well as its offense. We’ve got to make more plays than their defense. We were able to rise to the challenge today. Everybody that needed to make plays, made plays. We ended up getting the win because of it. And getting a win in an environment like this, it’s big. You want it, you got to go get it.”

For three-plus quarters the Saints’ defense appeared up for the challenge, but that’s when cornerback Marshon Lattimore committed an athletic sin. After defending on a third-down incompletion, he waved his hand dismissively at Brady as Brady crossed his path to protest a non-interference call.

Brady immediately turned to Lattimore and began to jaw with him. That’s when Fournette pushed Lattimore, who retaliated with a push or punch to the facemask. With that, it was on. Evans, who had been walking toward the sideline, then entered the fray and forcefully shoved Lattimore to the ground as a large scrum ensued near midfield.

“We in New Orleans. That’s how it be. That’s how it gets,” Evans said. “He was a little too emotional; I don’t know why. He threw a punch at one of my teammates and I can’t let that happen.”

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