TAMPA — Seven in the box, eight in the box ... it didn’t matter Sunday.
Doug Martin was going to get his yards.
One week after the Jets bottled him up at the Meadowlands, Tampa Bay’s second-year running back gashed the Saints for 144 yards on 29 carries, accounting for more than half of the 273 yards the Bucs gained in another heartbreaking setback.
“Doug’s getting better and better,’’ Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. “He’s the rock, and he makes us look good.’’
Martin, who finished third in the league in total yards from scrimmage as a rookie, was limited to 65 yards in 24 carries against the Jets, who stacked the box in an effort to contain the Pro Bowl back.
Martin did the bulk of his damage against New Orleans in the second half, including a 28-yard dash up the middle one snap after an apparent 73-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson was nullified by an illegal formation penalty.
With the Saints defense drawn in, Martin couldn’t find much running room on Tampa Bay’s final possession as the Bucs tried to extend their 14-13 advantage. Martin carried eight times in an 11-play drive, but gained only 19 yards before Rian Lindell missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
No Buccaneer appeared more forlorn after Sunday’s bitter loss than Rian Lindell, who had an opportunity to put Tampa Bay ahead by four points with 66 seconds remaining. Lindell, a 67 percent career kicker from 40-49 yards out, hooked his 47-yard attempt past the left goal post, giving Drew Brees and the Saints a chance to win with a field goal instead of a touchdown.
“When guys battled so hard like that, it feels like I pulled the rug out from under them,’’ said Lindell, who was signed during training camp to compete against Derek Dimke after injuries to Connor Barth and Lawrence Tynes. “I didn’t do my part today. You want to contribute and I have confidence that I can, but obviously I didn’t get it done and it hurts.’’
Both sides now
For four seasons, linebacker Jonathan Casillas watched Drew Brees work his magic as teammates in New Orleans. On Sunday, Casillas had a different view that he ultimately found sobering.
Taking over at his own 37-yard line with no timeouts left, Brees directed a 54-yard drive in five plays, capped by Garrett Hartley’s game-winning 27-yard field goal as time expired.
“I haven’t seen anyone better in the final two minutes,’’ said Casillas, credited with two tackles. “I’ve seen him do it so many times when I was on his side.’’
Brees, who leads all NFL quarterbacks in the major passing categories since he arrived in New Orleans in 2006, authored his 22nd regular-season, fourth-quarter comeback win as a Saint.
“We played well against Brees today,’’ Casillas said. “But in the end, we didn’t play good enough.’’