The New Orleans Saints weaved their voodoo once again and shocked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, dealing Tampa Bay their first shut out in 9 years, 9-0.
What I Liked
- The Bucs’ defense keeping Tampa Bay in the ballgame while the offense sputtered.
- Ronald Jones, Jr. making some big runs.
What I Didn’t
- Everything else.
Pieces of Eight
Honestly, as I begin today’s column, I have no idea how long it’s going to be. I don’t know what there is to say, really. The New Orleans Saints have beaten Tampa Bay in 9 of their last 11 meetings in the regular season and in seven straight games.
This isn’t a Tom Brady problem. It isn’t a Jameis Winston problem or a Bruce Arians or Dirk Koetter problem. It’s a Saints problem. Much like Aaron Rodgers owns the Chicago Bears and Tom Brady owns the Buffalo Bills, the Saints have ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now a lot of that is because the Saints have been the reigning division champions for four years running while the Bucs have only been relevant since Brady graced Tampa Bay with his presence last year.
Yet, even the greatest quarterback in history can’t get the Bucs past the Saints – with the exception of that lone playoff game – which seems now more like a flukey choke job by New Orleans than the Bucs finally getting past their nemesis.
While last night was terrible for Bucs fans in a packed Raymond James Stadium ready to celebrate their first division championship in 13 years, an interesting note is that the two times the Bucs’ have been swept by the Saints in the regular season and the Bucs made the playoffs, they won the Super Bowl.
It wasn’t necessarily shocking that the Bucs lost Sunday night. It’s how it happened. This was a football team that averaged nearly 40 points a game (37.5 to be exact) at home this season. The Bucs were shut out. Blanked. On a national stage with everything to play for. Even the Jets scored 9 points against the Saints.
Had you had told most fans that the Bucs would hold the Saints to 3 field goals and 212 yards of total offense, you would have expected the Bucs to win going away.
That’s what really got to Bucs fans, I think. How could this juggernaut of an offense could be stopped? Of course, it didn’t help that Tampa Bay lost both star receivers in the first half with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin going down to injury. Along with Antonio Brown serving the final game of his suspension while last week’s hero Breshad Perriman in COVID-19 reserve, Brady had to rely on Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, and Scotty Miller. None of them would have more than 41 yds receiving.
The Bucs would lose their primary weapon Leonard Fournette early in the 2nd half, compounding an already growing problem. Ronald Jones, Jr. ran well given the opportunity in the second half, but there’s a reason he’s not the leading running back anymore, and now he may need to be for a while.
Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady’s most reliable weapon, had the worst game we’ve seen as a Buccaneer, dropping several passes and securing just two of his eleven targets. Cameron Brate dropped one too and has anyone seen O.J. Howard? Is he still on the roster?
In the end, though, it wasn’t really about the skill guys or who was out there catching balls from Tom Brady. The game was lost by the Bucs’ offensive line simply being incapable of blocking the Saints’ defensive front. Brady was sacked four times, hit 7 times as the Saints decided to chuck it all and stop the run while getting to Brady. Even Tristan Wirfs was beaten badly for a sack. Tristan Wirfs – the ROCK.
When Brady’s first pass of the game was nearly intercepted, Bucs fans had to be thinking, “Uh oh”. I know I was – but I couldn’t imagine the Bucs being shut out. Shut out? Are you kidding me? This offense? With this quarterback? It’s been 15 years since a team quarterbacked by Tom Brady was shut out.
Lost in the disappointment of this night was the tremendous performance of the Buccaneers’ defense, who fought hard to keep their team in the ballgame. The Bucs’ defense was excellent on third down, 3-of-16 18.8%, and limited the Saints to just 212 yards of total offense.
Bayou Tebow, excuse me, Taysom Hill, was his typical erratic self, going 13-of-27 for 153 yds. He did complete two long balls to Marcus Callaway, one a dying duck that hung in the air for what seemed a half hour and seemingly mystified the Bucs’ secondary, allowing Callaway to haul down the pass that set up New Orleans’ second field goal.
Alvin Kamara was held in check, with just 31 total yards (18 rushing, 13 passing).
Tampa Bay sacked Hill twice, kept him contained running the ball, 33 yds on 11 carries, and otherwise did a fine job giving the Bucs’ offense opportunities to get back on the field.
If there was just one minor gripe on defense, it’s that they couldn’t secure that game-changing turnover that would have swung the balance of the game. Case in point – on New Orleans’ final scoring drive – Hill threw up another duck and Andrew Adams had a chance to make an interception that would have kept the game 6-0, instead, he dropped it and it fell to the ground. The Saints’ Brett Mayer would add a 42 yd field goal two plays later and what would end up being an insurmountable 9-0 lead.
As bad as the offense was, special teams were just as bad. Ryan Succop missed a 45 yd field goal that would have cut the New Orleans advantage to 6-3. Bradley Pinion had 4 punts of 40 or less yards, including a dreadful 30 yd punt that would set up New Orleans’ final scoring drive.
Jaelon Darden again failed to really make anything out of his return abilities, and even when he did, the special teams would get it called back on a penalty.
They would also surrender a 34 yd punt return by Easop Winston, Jr.
Folks, when two of three phases of football play a terrible game, you aren’t going to win many games.
Of course, the biggest part of Sunday night’s loss may be the injuries sustained by the Bucs in this game. Chris Godwin went first, sustaining an ugly looking knee injury while being hit low by Saints DB P.J. Williams. Initial reports are Godwin will miss time but should be back soon. Update: News was worse on Godwin, looks like he’s out for the year with a torn ACL per the Athletic’s Greg Auman. Losing Godwin is a devastating blow to the Bucs. Don’t even know how to put it into words right now.
Even more concerning are the hamstring injuries to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette. Fournette came in nursing a hurt ankle and now has a hamstring issue. Evans is a warrior, he’ll play through just about anything, so for this to take him out, it has to be a tough one. I’m no doctor and I surely won’t diagnose Web MD style here – but we’ve all watched enough football to know soft tissue injuries are the toughest to come back from because you can make it worse – so bad it could put you out months. It would be shocking to see either Fournette or Evans available for next Sunday against the Panthers. Right now the focus would need to be to get those guys back for the playoffs – and sadly, this may mean Evans’ amazing streak of 1,000 yard seasons could be in jeopardy – just 101 yds shy of the mark.
The good news is Antonio Brown will indeed be returning to the club from his three-game suspension this week and presumably has healed the hurt foot that has kept him out since Week 6. The Bucs haven’t lost a game Brown has played in this season (5-0).
Safety Mike Edwards will also be back this week, which will help an injury depleted secondary.
With Giovanni Bernard still out and on IR and Fournette likely out, Ronald Jones, Jr. will have to be the man for the next few weeks. Keshaun Vaughn may get a series or two, but honestly, we’ve seen nothing from Vaughn to suggest he can be more than a special teams contributor.
Sunday night marked just the second time this season Tom Brady was held without a touchdown pass in a game and just his third time as a Buccaneer. Tampa Bay is 1-2 when he doesn’t throw at least one touchdown pass. Both losses – yep, to the Saints.
Brady in his career against New Orleans (not including the postseason), is now 4-5 against the Saints with 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, averaging 274 yds passing, and an 88 QB Rating.
As a Buccaneer, he’s 0-4 with 6 TD passes and 8 interceptions.
While his MVP campaign likely ended on Sunday Night, Brady is still on pace to eclipse the 5,000 yd passing mark and 40 touchdown passes on the season.
The Saints victory kept New Orleans (7-7) alive for the NFC South title. The Saints are the only team that could catch the Bucs if Tampa Bay were to do the unthinkable and lose the rest of their games. The Falcons dropped to 6-8 with a loss on the road in San Francisco that likely ended their playoff hopes. Carolina continued their freefall, losing their fourth straight game to fall to 5-9. The Bucs can wrap up the NFC South title with a win in one of their last three games or a New Orleans loss in any of their last three games.
The chase for the number seed took a big hit by the Bucs’ loss on Sunday Night. While Arizona suffered a shocking upset to the Lions, the Dallas Cowboys took care of business against the Giants and the Packers survived a late comeback by the Ravens. Green Bay is the top seed with a game on everyone and a tie-breaker edge on Tampa Bay. They would need to lose two of their final three games for the Bucs to have a chance at the number one seed. The Bucs dropped to the third seed behind Dallas. Head-to-Head you say? In a three-way tie where a team hasn’t swept the other two teams, the head-to-head matchup is thrown out and it goes to conference record, where the Bucs and Cardinals are a poor 6-4.
Bottom line, this loss likely ended any hopes of the Bucs’ getting the first round bye. Now it’s about the 2 seed. The Bucs need Arizona and the Rams to lose a game (to break the three way tie and avoid the Rams getting the division lead) or for Dallas to lose a game. This, of course, assumes the Bucs win out – which may be slightly tougher if their top weapons are out for an extended period of time.
Next up, the first of two matchups in three weeks with the Carolina Panthers. After a 3-0 start, the Panthers have lost 9 of their last 11 games and are on a four game losing streak. Things have gotten so desperate, they brought back Cam Newton, who has proceeded to be worse than Sam Darnold, who was bad before he got injured (benched?).
The Panthers defense is solid, with one of the best pass defenses in the NFL (second only to Buffalo) but have surrendered 27 or more points in each of their last four games. The Panthers are winless when the opponent scores 21 or more.
DLT’s Who to Root For This Week
|Green Bay Packers (1)||11||3||0||North Champion|
|Dallas Cowboys (2)||10||4||0||East Champion||conference win percentage|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3)||10||4||0||South Champion||strength of victory|
|Arizona Cardinals (4)||10||4||0||West Champion|
|Los Angeles Rams (5)||9||4||0||Wild Card #1|
|San Francisco 49ers (6)||8||6||0||Wild Card #2|
|New Orleans Saints (7)||7||7||0||Wild Card #3|
|Washington Football Team||6||7||0||conference win percentage|
|Minnesota Vikings||6||7||0||win percentage in common games|
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the NFL this past week. Several games have been rescheduled for tonight and tomorrow, some with implications for the Buccaneers.
As you can see from the table, the Saints currently occupy the seventh and final playoff spot but that could change with a win by Minnesota or Philadelphia or a three-way tie between Minnesota, New Orleans, and the Washington Football team.
The Bucs don’t want to see the Saints in the playoffs again. Not one bit.
So here’s who to root for this week other than the Bucs.
Week 15 Who To Root For
Vikings to beat the Bears – As stated above, Minnesota would move ahead of the Saints with a win, based on conference record.
Eagles to beat the Washington Football Team – Eagles victory would knock the Saints further down the table.
Seahawks to beat the Rams – A fifth loss by the Rams would definitely help keep them from a division title and hosting home games (or more importantly, surpassing the Cardinals and the Bucs in seeding).
Week 16 Who to Root For
Browns to Beat the Packers – Honestly, there’s little chance the Bucs will be able to get back up to the number one seed, but if the Packers lose, the door opens ever slightly.
Colts to beat the Cardinals – Keep the Cardinals reeling and buried behind the Bucs, would break a three-way tie with the Cowboys (assuming the Bucs win and the Rams lose at some point in the next two games).
Falcons to beat the Lions – Helps the Bucs’ strength of victory tiebreaker.
Vikings to beat the Rams – Keeps Minnesota ahead of New Orleans in playoff position and keeps the Rams’ hands of the NFC West division title and behind the Bucs (assuming Tampa Bay wins).
Eagles to beat the Giants – Depending on what happens with the game on Tuesday, the Eagles might be fighting to fend off the Saints for the final playoff spot.
Washington Football Team to beat the Cowboys – This would help the Bucs get back to the number two seed (if Tampa Bay wins).
Monday Night, December 27th
Dolphins to beat the Saints – The Dolphins may be the best team the Saints will face left on their schedule. Miami is the 2nd hottest team in the NFL, winning six straight games to climb their way back in the AFC playoff race. If the Bucs fail to secure the division on Sunday, a loss by the Saints on Monday night would do it for Tampa Bay.
Tweet of the Game
We all feel you, Tom.
Surface tension: https://t.co/JY8HRUk7vr
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 20, 2021