Bucs' playoff hopes damaged with loss to Saints

TAMPA, Fla. -- The pressure of competing for the playoffs might have finally caught up with the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

From the first offensive play Sunday, the Bucs were off their game against the New Orleans Saints. A holding penalty on Donovan Smith negated a 36-yard completion from Jameis Winston to Vincent Jackson. That was a synopsis of the game, as mistakes hurt Tampa Bay in a crucial 24-17 loss Sunday.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns and easily outdueled Winston. The rookie threw for 182 yards and a score on 18-of-32 passing. Two of his incompletions were crucial fourth-quarter drops by Mike Evans and Donteea Dye that could have kept drives going.

What it means: The loss seriously damaged Tampa Bay's playoff drive. The Buccaneers (6-7) lost ground to the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) and are two games behind both the Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings for the final playoff spots in the NFC with three games to play. Tampa Bay plays two of its final three games on the road, including Thursday against the St. Louis Rams.

One reason to get excited: Doug Martin averaged 7.4 yards per carry on just 11 attempts. Playing for a new contract, Martin might be playing the best football of his four-year career.

One reason to panic: Tampa Bay was struggling against the league's worst-rated defense, even with receiver Vincent Jackson in the lineup. Then he left with an injury. If he's out for a significant amount of time, what other receiver will step up to help Evans?

Fantasy watch: Evans was going up against the league's second-worst pass defense but could not get going. Evans did not get any targets in the first half and ended up with three catches for 39 yards.

Ouch: Jackson's status is unknown after he injured his right knee. Sunday was just the second game Tampa Bay had its top three receiving options: Evans, Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Friendly flags: Tampa Bay had nine first downs in the first half. The team had two rushing, three by passing and four by penalty. Three of those penalties were on Saints cornerback Kyle Wilson, including two unnecessary-roughness penalties on Tampa Bay's lone touchdown drive of the first half.