Rookie Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore proved Sunday he's not about to back down from a fight. 

Even in the literal sense.

Lattimore was at the center of a near-brawl during the third quarter of the Saints' 30-10 win over the Buccaneers. The fight erupted when Tampa Bay star Mike Evans blind-sided the rookie following a testy exchange between Lattimore and Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

"He's a grown man, and he snuck me from behind," Lattimore said. "I get it, they were frustrated. It's football. It is what it is."

Evans acknowledged his guilt after the game. 

"I just let my emotions get the best of me," Evans said. "Something I shouldn't have (done). It was very childish. I just saw the shove, then I thought he was going after Jameis. I was trying to protect my quarterback."

Saints coach Sean Payton wanted Evans ejected for the dangerous hit and the other blows he delivered to Lattimore.

Evans followed up the hit by slamming his elbow into Lattimore's face mask and reaching back for another punch, a blow that was altered when Saints defensive back De'Vante Harris raced toward a former teammate in defense of a current one.

Harris and Evans played together at Texas A&M, but that relationship didn't stop Harris from protecting Lattimore. The second-year cornerback knocked Evans off of Lattimore right before the Buccaneers receiver threw his second punch. 

"If you come at my guy, I'm going to ride," Harris said. "Mike's still my homie; I still love him like a brother."

Payton, who ran all the way out to midfield in defense of his player, wasn't happy that Evans was allowed to remain in the game. 

"I know it went to New York to look at, and if there's not an ejection in that situation, then I don't know when there's supposed to be an ejection," Payton said.

Evans likely will draw a heavy fine from the league office for his hit on Lattimore.

Winston instigated the situation after he'd been pulled from the game due to injury.

"We were just talking on the sideline; I turned to walk away, and he pushed the back of my head," Lattimore said. "I don't want to take that, so I retaliated."

After an exchange of words on the sideline, Winston pushed the back of Lattimore's helmet with his index finger, and Lattimore lightly pushed the quarterback with one arm. 

"I was telling him to go to his sideline," Winston said.

Exchanges like the one between Winston and Lattimore happen often in football games.

Evans' hit was far outside normal decorum.

"I didn't see what happened on the fight. ... I heard a report on what happened from people who did," Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said. "That is definitely not the way that we want to represent ourselves if it was, in fact, the way that I was told."

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Lattimore, for his part, was glad the referees only flagged Evans for unnecessary roughness and left the Buccaneers star in the game.

The rookie cornerback wanted to make his point by shutting Evans down the rest of the game. Evans was targeted on a deep ball early in the fourth quarter, and Lattimore batted the ball away. He helped to limit Evans, who entered ranked 12th in the NFL in receiving yards, to just one catch for 13 yards on six targets. 

"I wanted to go at him after that," Lattimore said. "So I was glad he wasn't ejected."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.