Sunday's matchup between division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans was so physical, even the sidelines offered no sanctuary at Raymond James Stadium.
Saints head coach Sean Payton and Bucs assistant Jimmy Lake each suffered major leg injuries in Tampa Bay's 26-20 victory, which also saw Bucs center Jeff Faine leave the game with a right biceps injury.
New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham rolled over Payton's left knee while going out of bounds following a completion four minutes into the game. After a lengthy delay, Payton watched most of the first half from the bench, with his left leg elevated, before heading upstairs to the coach's box with a fractured tibia and an MCL tear.
Lake, who coaches Tampa Bay's defensive backs, was walking around the locker room on crutches after tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee while celebrating Tanard Jackson's second-quarter interception.
"Sean Payton didn't come back — I came back," Lake said with a smile. "I would think that injury (Payton) affected the Saints a little bit because Sean calls their plays."
After the game, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris walked down to the New Orleans locker room to check on Payton's status.
"Sean's been a guy that's been very helpful in my young coaching career," Morris said. "I know we're arch rivals, but Sean's one of those guys I consider a mentor. I admire and respect his style. He's in good spirits. Sean's a tough guy. He'll bounce back and find a way to get it done."
When Faine was sidelined, the Bucs switched Jeremy Zuttah from guard to center and inserted Ted Larsen at left guard the rest of the way.
Faine said he left the game as a precaution and didn't think his injury was serious. He said he would board Tampa Bay's flight to London today with the intention of playing against the Bears at Wembley Stadium.
Brief flare up
Cameras showed Bucs TE Kellen Winslow and QB Josh Freeman exchanging some choice words on the sidelines in the second quarter, with both players attributing the dustup to the intensity of the game.
"You've got two emotional guys trying to get on the same page," said Freeman, who targeted Winslow 10 times, completing five.
Late in the opening half, Freeman threw three consecutive incompletions to Winslow at midfield.
"It got a little heated out there for a while," Winslow said. "This win was huge, especially after what we showed last Sunday in San Francisco, where we got our butts kicked. We put up 26 points today, but it feels like we left about 21 points on the field."
Winslow was reminded that 49ers TE Vernon Davis said the Bucs appeared to quit in the late stages of their 48-3 loss at Candlestick Park.
"Tell Vernon Davis to come see us now," Winslow said.
No Blount? No problem
Tampa Bay was without RB LeGarrette Blount on Sunday, but the Bucs did not skip a beat.
Bucs running back Earnest Graham rushed 17 times for 109 yards, while Winslow filled Blount's role as a hurdler against New Orleans.
Winslow caught a pass from Freeman in the fourth quarter and leaped over New Orleans CB Jabari Greer for a 15-yard gain. Tampa Bay ended that drive with a 38-yard field goal from Connor Barth, giving it a 26-20 lead.
"I don't even know where that came from," Winslow said. "I didn't even know I could do that anymore. I'm on one leg out there, but it's all about helping the team win. You can hurt later."
Sunday's paid attendance was 56,590 as the Bucs suffered their third blackout of the season and 11th in the past 12 home games. … Magic center Dwight Howard attended the game. … Freeman's 65-yard touchdown pass to Arrelious Benn in the second quarter marks the longest completion of his three-year career. … Bucs CB Ronde Barber made his 189th consecutive start, tops among all active players, and Winslow has at least one reception in all 82 games of his NFL career. … RB Darren Sproles led New Orleans with eight catches and gained 16 yards on his only rushing attempt. … Despite a combined 86 pass attempts, neither Freeman nor Drew Brees was sacked.