I HATE THE SAINTS!
I’m still in shock. I mean, how does that happen? How does a team that’s 6-0, scoring 30+ points at home this season get shut out at home by a defense that gave up 26 to the Panthers, 27 to the Giants, 27 to the Falcons, and 40 to the Eagles? How? Can someone please explain it to me? And I don’t want to hear about losing players either. That Saints team was playing without their head coach, both starting offensive tackles AND their top two receivers. Do the Saints really just “have the Bucs number“? Did some witch doctor in New Orleans put some kind of voodoo doll curse on the Bucs? There has to be some kind of supernatural explanation for the Bucs losing to this shitty Saints team again. It can’t be that they’re the better team. It can’t be that they are more talented. It can’t be that they have more to play for. So what is it?
I truly don’t even feel like rehashing this embarrassing loss by writing this article, but it has to be done, so here it goes. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into primetime Sunday Night Football with a chance to beat the Saints in the regular season for the first in three years AND clinch the NFC South title. Instead, they completely shit the bed and allowed a bad Saints team to come into their house and, once again, humiliate them. It wasn’t 38-3, but it may as well have been. The New Orleans defense kept the #1 offense in the league out of the red zone, out of the end zone, off the scoreboard, and pulled a 9-0 win out of their ass in front of a nationwide television audience. Even though I witnessed the debacle live and in person, I rewatched the game Monday morning, hoping that it was just a nightmare. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was the same pathetic offensive performance and the same absurd result. So here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly that I saw in the Bucs embarrassing loss to the Saints.
The Buccaneers’ defense played the way they should’ve played against this depleted Saints offense without Sean Payton, both of their starting tackles and their leading receiver. They didn’t play great, but they played well enough to win this game, holding New Orleans to just 212 total yards and 9 points on 60 plays, 11 first downs, 3 of 16 on third downs, and forcing 9 punts. They were good, but they could’ve been better by getting to the quarterback more; since they only had 2 sacks and forcing some turnovers.
Before this game, NFL teams had 11 first downs or fewer just 14 times in over 200 times and were 1-13 in those games. Tom Brady was 64-0 with the Patriots when holding opponents to 9 points or less. The Buccaneers, as a franchise, were 67-6 when doing so before this game.
The Run Game
Even though they only ran the ball 20 times total, the Bucs did have success against a Saints defense that was ranked 6th in the league in rushing defense. Bucs backs averaged 6 yards per carry in this game. Ronald Jones had 8 carries for 63 yards and 7.9 yards per carry. Leonard Fournette had 9 carries for 38 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. And Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 3 carries for 19 yards and 6.1 yards per carry. Hindsight is 20/20, but maybe the Bucs should’ve just tried to run the ball down the Saints throat all night instead of passing it 48 times.
This one hurt. Not so much with the playoff race or the record, but for Bucs fans. It was a real gut punch. Our fans are divided up into three types right now. First, there’s “the sky is falling” types that are saying the season is over, Brady is done, trade Mike Evans, blah blah blah. Then there are the optimistic types that are saying we got swept by the Saints in the regular season both years we won the Super Bowl, so we’ll be fine. Lastly, there are the fans like me that are in shock over what just happened. I stood there in the south end zone for 15 minutes after the game, just staring at the scoreboard in disbelief. It was a long, lonely walk back to the parking lot and a long, quiet drive home to Lakeland. I hate the Saints. A lot of Bucs fans do. Any other team and this loss wouldn’t have hurt so much, but because it was the Saints, it’s like a knife through the heart, especially since we know they’re NOT the better team.
The Buccaneers’ offense has been rolling pretty good this season. Tom Brady was leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns, and the Bucs were 1st in points per game. They had scored 30+ points in every home game this season and were on the verge of being the first team in NFL history to do so in all eight of their home games. That dream was destroyed on Sunday night. The offense that was averaging 31.5 points per game this season and 37.5 points per game at home; was shut out at home for the first time in 12 years. It was just the third time a Tom Brady-led team has ever been shut out and the first time since 2006. It’s just the second time that a team coached by Bruce Arians has been shut out in 133 games. Since 1970, no team that was leading the league in scoring had ever been shut out at home — just to give you an idea of how rare this loss was.
Out of 73 offensive plays, they didn’t run a single play in the red zone in this game. Not one. Zero. In fact, they only ran 3 plays inside the Saints’ 35-yard line all night. They’ve run at least 10 red zone plays in every game this season and averaged 19 red zone plays per game. They were also terrible on third downs in this game. Against the Bills last week, they were 6 for 6 in 3rd & 3 or less. On Sunday, they were 1 of 4 on 3rd & 2 or less AND didn’t convert on 4th & 1 as well. In total, they were 1 for 9 on third downs with 4 sacks, 2 turnovers, AND both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were injured on third-down plays; it was NOT a good day. Brady finished 26 of 48 for 214 yards and an interception, completing passes to 11 different players. That’s only 4.46 yards per attempt, which is the third-lowest average in 95 career regular-season games when throwing 40+ passes.
This might have been the worst game of the season for this Bucs o-line, giving up 4 sacks, but it was definitely Alex Cappa’s worst game of the year. He gave up one sack to Cameron Jordan as well as a couple of other QB pressures and hits. Donovan Smith gave up a sack. Tristan Wirfs gave up his first sack of the season. Ryan Jensen gave up a sack. They just did not have an answer for the Saints’ d-line. The bad thing is that they did it rushing four guys most of the time. They only blitzed six times in this game. They only rushed four guys on 41 of Brady’s 52 dropbacks resulting in 11 pressures and 4 sacks. Brady only completed 18 of 37 passes against those four-man rushes with a passer rating of 48.6, his lowest of the year. New Orleans got pressure on 27% of the dropbacks, while no other team had even broken 20% this season. No other team had more than 2 sacks on non-blitzing situations either. It was an extremely uncharacteristic game for this group that’s been very strong and dependable all year, and it’s one they’d probably prefer to forget.
The Not-So-Special Teams
The Bucs special teams were a disaster in this game. Ryan Succop missed his only kick of the day, while Bradley Pinion punted the ball eight times, averaging just 42 yards per punt, and only put three of the eight inside the 20-yard line. The kick/punt returning was lackluster and the punt coverage was lazy. They even had a roughing-the-punter call late in the 4th quarter that gave the Saints a first down and allowed them to take even more time off the clock.
The Tight Ends
This was an uncharacteristically bad game for Rob Gronkowski, who finished with 2 catches on 11 targets for 29 yards. Prior to Sunday, he had 33 career games with 10+ targets, and he had at least 4 catches in each one. In a game where they were hurting so bad at wide receiver, this should’ve been a game where Gronk took over. He didn’t. In fact, he dropped a few passes, including what could’ve been a touchdown or at least would’ve set the Bucs up inside the Saints’ 5-yard line.
The other two tight ends: Cameron Brate and OJ Howard, didn’t rise to the occasion either. Brate only had 2 catches for 22 yards, and he had a couple of drops, as well. And Howard played just 10 snaps and dropped his only target of the game. With all of the injuries to the Bucs receiving corps, they really needed these guys to step up, and it just didn’t happen.
The Book Ends
With BOTH of the Saints starting offensive tackles out for this game, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul should’ve feasted on Taysom Hill. Instead, they did nothing. Barrett had no tackles and just one QB hit, while JPP had just 2 tackles. Pierre-Paul, who is playing with a torn rotator cuff AND a broken finger, has zero sacks and just one tackle for loss over the last 7 games. Before this, he’s never gone 3 straight games without a sack as a Buccaneer. These guys need to be better.
With all the injuries the Bucs are dealing with these days, the “next men up” have to do a better job of filling in when called upon. Once Evans and Godwin went down, the only receivers left active for this game were Tyler Johnson (4 catches for 41 yards), Scotty Miller (2 catches for 18 yards), and Jaelon Darden, who had no catches. That’s 6 catches for 59 yards between three receivers, in case you needed help with the math. That won’t get it done. Bruce Arians said that the Saints were playing tight man coverage, and his guys just weren’t winning their one-on-ones. That’s what led to the lack of offensive production and the sacks on Brady in the second half.
This has been an issue in a number of games this season, but they especially hurt in this one. Rob Gronkowski dropped three passes, including one that either could’ve been a touchdown or would’ve set the Bucs up inside the Saints 5-yard line with 1st & goal. Chris Godwin had a drop. Cam Brate had a drop. OJ Howard had a drop. Tyler Johnson had a drop. Leonard Fournette had a drop. And safety Andrew Adams dropped an interception in the 4th quarter that would’ve stopped the Saints from kicking that last field goal to go up 9-0 late in the game. Dropping a catchable football is nothing but a lapse in focus and concentration. That’s exactly what’s biting this team in the ass right now.
Byron Leftwich has been doing a really nice job calling plays this season, so it seems strange to be calling him out for doing a poor job. However, I think he did in this game. Maybe it was the lack of talent left on the field or the limited options, but some of the play calls just didn’t make sense to me. The 3rd & 2 call deep to Darden. Handing it off to Vaughn on 3rd & 1 instead of keeping Ronald Jones in or even sneaking it with Brady. The 4th & 1 call deep down the sideline to Gronk. Why no quick screens to Scotty Miller? How come OJ Howard wasn’t used more? I’m not even going to pretend that I know better than Leftwich or Arians when it comes to calling plays in the NFL, but I just don’t understand some of the decisions.
The officials have not been the Buccaneers’ allies this season. For whatever reason, and despite what Bills fans think, the officiating in Tampa Bay games has been atrocious this year. They missed three fairly obvious defensive pass interferences that I saw. They didn’t even call a DPI for the Bucs until there were about 4 minutes left in the game. They missed the delay of the game by the Saints on 3rd down with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter that could’ve halted their drive. They missed an obvious hold on Pat O’Connor on that punt attempt where he injured his knee with 3 minutes left in the game. And they should’ve called CJ Gardner-Johnson for taunting when he got in Tom Brady’s face after one play. I’m not saying there’s some kind of conspiracy against the Buccaneers this season by the officials, but they’re not doing a very good job of proving it wrong.
Already playing without Antonio Brown, Breshad Perriman, and Giovanni Bernard, the Bucs offense lost Mike Evans (hamstring), Chris Godwin (knee), and Leonard Fournette (hamstring) in this game as well. And that was just on offense. Lavonte David left this game with a foot injury, and Pat O’Connor exited with a knee injury late. The injury bug continues to raise its ugly head with this year’s team, and now it’s taken a turn for the worse. After Monday’s MRIs, both Godwin’s and O’Connor’s revealed tears that will be season-ending. Godwin has an ACL, and O’Connor has a PCL and partial MCL tears. At this time, they’re still waiting on the results from the other MRIs.
The Boo Birds
For the first time this season, the “boo bird” fans came out in Raymond James Stadium. They were booing the offense. They were booing as the team went in at halftime. And they were booing as the team left the field after the game. I don’t necessarily condone the act of booing your own team, but I don’t blame fans either. It was an extremely frustrating game to watch offensively.
I know that Bruce Arians came out in his Monday morning press conference and said that the hit on Godwin was “legal“, but I don’t care. It may have been “legal” according to the NFL rule book, but it was absolutely intentional and just plain dirty football. If that had been the only occurrence in this game, then I wouldn’t be so suspicious. However, after rewatching the game, I noticed Saints defensive players “going low” on at least four other occasions as well — once on Gronk. Once on Brady. And twice on Fournette. Then there’s the tweet from one of their players, following their first game with the Bucs when Jameis Winston was injured, saying “An eye for an eye,” hinting towards getting revenge in their next game with the Bucs. I wouldn’t expect anything less from such a classless organization — they’ve been caught doing it once already, so what’s to stop them from doing it again?
For whatever reason, this Saints defense plays the Bucs better than anyone else in the league. I don’t think they’re that good. I just think those guys get more hyped-up to play the Bucs than anyone else. Over the last two seasons, the Bucs are 0-4 against the Saints and 21-5 against everyone else. I’m trying not to freak out and overreact; both times the Bucs won the Super Bowl, they were swept by the Saints in the regular season. Last year, after being shut down by the Saints and losing 38-3 at home, the Bucs scored 365 points and went 9-2 in their last 11 games, never scoring less than 24 points in any game. If they lose one of these last three games, then I’ll get concerned. But until then, there’s no need to panic.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
After this loss, the Bucs are now sitting at the #3 seed in the NFC behind the 11-3 Packers and the 10-4 Cowboys and just ahead of the 10-4 Cardinals. The Bucs have to win these last three games. No playing around anymore. If they win out, they still have a chance at the #2 seed even if the Cowboys win out too. They need the Cardinals AND the Rams — to each — lose one of their remaining games. If that happens, and the Bucs win out — they’ll take over the #2 seed regardless of what the Cowboys do. If the Cardinals AND Rams both win out, then the Bucs would end up as the #2 seed because that would mean the Cowboys lost since they play Arizona in Week 18. If the Packers lose, and Bucs and Cowboys win out, then Bucs would end up as the #3 seed. If the Rams somehow finish 13-4 as well, the Bucs could end up as the #4 seed, but not likely to happen. In any case, the Buccaneers need to take care of their own business before worrying about what other teams are doing. And that starts with beating the Panthers on the road next Sunday.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!