NEW ORLEANS -- The long-running feud between New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans continued on Sunday in a bench-clearing brawl that ended with both players ejected.
Buccaneers players chalked the physical altercation up to the emotions of an intense rivalry, while Saints players were left to defend Lattimore's actions, arguing he acted in self defense.
Evans and Lattimore ended up in the center of a fight that kicked off a wild fourth quarter that saw the Buccaneers score 17 points to turn a 3-3 tied game into a 20-10 win over the Saints in the Caesar's Superdome.
"It gets spicy when you come to New Orleans," Evans said.
Lattimore wasn't available for comment after the game, but he has made his feelings on Evans clear over the years. Because the two are often matched up one-on-one, they've developed a dislike for each other that has often turned physical.
One of the first incidents was in 2017, when Evans came running onto the field and shoved Lattimore in the back after Lattimore exchanged words with then-Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who had poked him in the helmet. Winston is now with the Saints.
Evans was suspended one game for the incident and called his actions "childish."
Lattimore shoved Evans in the back during a game in 2020, prompting Evans to shove him back and knock his helmet off in response, as teammates ran over from both sides. Lattimore was fined $10,500 for unnecessary roughness for the incident.
The NFL is reviewing Sunday's brawl and suspensions are possible, a league source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
Evans, who watched the rest of the game from the locker room, said he's not concerned about a possible suspension for the Bucs' home opener against the Green Bay Packers next week.
"Naw, naw, naw, naw," Evans said. "That was terrible -- 2017 I didn't even get ejected and that was really a cheap shot. This wasn't. He punched my teammate in the face and I just pushed him to the ground."
Sunday's incident began late in the game with both teams tied 3-3. The Bucs were preparing to punt after Tom Brady's deep pass to Scotty Miller on third-and-5 fell incomplete with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter. Lattimore was covering Miller on the play and appeared to wave his arm at Brady in a dismissive manner as Brady walked by him after the play, gesturing at someone.
Brady turned to look at Lattimore and started to approach him as Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette ran over to shove Lattimore. Lattimore shoved Fournette back as both Saints safety Marcus Maye and Evans got involved.
Evans appeared to initially be walking back to the sideline before he turned around and ran onto the field, shoving Lattimore and knocking him to the ground. Maye then went after Evans as Lattimore got up to approach Evans again.
"All I seen was we were trying to get a flag called or whatever, and it wasn't called, and all I see is Lattimore, he like punched Lenny in the face or something like that and like, pushed Tom. That's all I saw. I just pushed him," Evans said.
Maye and Evans hit the ground together, and flags were thrown as other players ran to join the fray. Lattimore ended up on the ground under Evans and Maye. As the brawl escalated, Lattimore stood up, with several players still on the ground, yelling as teammates tried to pull him back.
Fournette downplayed the incident and described it as "just guys playing football," but later posted a GIF of him going up against Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu on his Twitter account.
"It's cool when they do it, it's a problem when I do #GoBucs," Fournette wrote.
Buccaneers right tackle Tristan Wirfs called the situation "nuts" and recalled a warning he got his rookie season about Evans' emotions when playing the Saints.
"Ryan Griffin told me, whenever we play these guys, just to keep an eye on Mike," he said. "So I saw that started and I sprinted down there and I like, went to the bottom of the pile and grabbed Mike and pulled him out. I was really tired after that. I saw a little opening and everybody was pulling on me, thinking I'm trying to fight people. And I was like, 'I'm trying to get Mike out of there.'"
Mathieu said things had already escalated by the time he reached the crowd of players.
"Obviously he's one of the better cornerbacks in this league. The majority of the game, guys won't be able to catch balls on him," Mathieu said of Lattimore. "So I think that's a tactic that guys are gonna use against him to kind of get him out his game. But I think in that moment, we all gotta respond."
NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson said officials reviewed video of the incident and believed Evans and Lattimore's actions both rose to the level of disqualification.
"They were involved in the altercation," Anderson said. "League policy advises players that coming to the defense or assistance of your fighting teammates does not excuse you for entering the area. So those actions, as well as the physical actions that both players engaged in, we just felt they were flagrant and rose to the level of disqualification."
He said Fournette's actions did not rise to the level of disqualification.
"Rule 19 allows us to end up looking at the potential for other players to be disqualified," Anderson said. "We just did not feel like those actions rose to the level of disqualification.
Saints running back Mark Ingram questioned why Lattimore was ejected when Evans came off the sidelines to hit him, pointing out the other time that happened.
"I don't understand how Marshon got ejected when somebody comes and sneak hits him," Ingram said.
He later added: "If anything, there was way more of them being egregious and offensive. You pick the one guy who was targeted ... I don't see how that's fair. I don't see how any man could look at that, see some guy just cheap-shot blindside you when they were really just talking. ... They were talking, gibbering back and forth and somebody comes and just earholes you, like blatantly? He did it twice. That was the second time he did that to Marshon. And nobody respects that, man. It just sucks, it's unfortunate we lose one of our guys. I didn't see the entire thing, but I did see what he did to 'Shon."
Winston said the officials were put in a "tough position" but said Lattimore "bit the bullet" for the team.
"He made a huge sacrifice for his team because it was not on him," Winston said. "But when the emotions get to flaring, they're humans. The referees are humans and they've got to make a decision"
After the brawl was over, Saints defensive end and team captain Cameron Jordan walked Lattimore off the field with an arm around his shoulder. Lattimore returned to the sideline to talk to co-defensive coordinator Kris Richard, while linebacker Demario Davis, another team captain, also came over to talk to him.
"It can't happen, it can't happen. We know whatever it is, the refs are gonna try to get the guy who reacts. They rarely catch the guy who initiates," Jordan said he told Lattimore. "That's just human error, that's just human whatever you want to call it. And when you lose a player like him, it definitely hurts."
Lattimore and Evans were both ejected after a quick discussion by officials. As Evans left the field, he appeared to shove a cameraman and gave his gloves to two fans.
"Clearly [Nos.] 2-3 and 1-3 got kicked out the game, but there was someone who initially started the shove -- and went out of their way to do so. So we just leave it up to the refs to sort it out, and we have to live by it," Jordan said. "In my mind, you have to defend yourself. So I don't know where you go from that. You're supposed to get shoved for no reason? 1-3 enters the fray, shoves him again. Like, what do you want from my guy?"
Saints coach Dennis Allen said he would have preferred that Lattimore, who had an unnecessary roughness penalty last week against the Falcons, would not have retaliated, echoing Jordan's statements that the second person often gets caught.
"You see these things happen all the time," Allen said. "What I'd like to see is Marshon not retaliate. I believe it was Leonard Fournette, not 100% positive, I believe he was the first one to kind of push and shove Lattimore. Usually they don't get the instigator, they get the responder. I think what happened after that was a little bit excessive."