“JUST HOW WE DREW IT UP!”
Those were the first words out of Tom Brady’s mouth when he got to the podium for his post-game press conference. For those “fans” that left early, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored 14 points in the final four minutes of Monday night’s game to beat the New Orleans Saints 17-16 and sweep them in the regular season for the first time in 15 years. It was unbelievable. It was an odd game. The Buccaneers offense had it’s moments. So did the defense. But the night wasn’t “dominated” by either side. In the end, they both played good enough to win. The question is, will it be good enough to keep winning? But before we get into the future, let’s talk about the past. Here’s my Good, Bad and Ugly from the Bucs exciting Monday night primetime matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
The 2007 season. That was the last time the Bucs swept the Saints in the regular season. That’s 15 years in between. That’s 25 games in between. That’s a lot of heartache and heartbreak in between. After listening to that stupid “WHO DAT” chant after every field goal the Saints kicked adding to their lead. After listening to Saints fans singing “Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” to all the Bucs “fans” who left early in the 4th quarter. After so many years of enduring loss after loss after loss. This was one of the most satisfying and gratifying ends to a game that I’ve ever witnessed in Raymond James Stadium.
It was Tom Brady’s 44th fourth quarter comeback of his career, breaking his tie with Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history. He was 0-37 in the regular season, 1-43 including the playoffs, when his team was trailing by 13 or more points in the 4th quarter over his career. His only win being the 28-3 collapse by the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Over the last 5 years, NFL teams were 2-530 when trailing by 13+ points in the final 4 minutes of regulation. That is until Monday night’s win by the Bucs.
The “Country Road”
During the Buccaneers game in Germany, the John Denver song “Country Road” was played in the 4th quarter and the entire crowd of 69,000 fans were singing along with it. After that game Bucs fans, including myself were clamoring for that song to be played during home games at Raymond James Stadium. The Monday night game against the Saints was the first home game since Germany and the Bucs were gracious enough to grant our wishes. Once the game was over, it happened. “Country Road” began playing and every Bucs fan left in the building was singing along with it at the top of their lungs. It was an amazing way to end a night that I thought couldn’t get any better. Hopefully, they keep that tradition up for the rest of the season.
I know they were missing half of their key players, but they still had their top two corners with Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal at safety. Even though they only gave up one touchdown, they still allowed Andy Dalton to carve them up going 20 of 28 for 229 yards. They also allowed Taysom Hill to complete his only pass attempt for 21 yards. The Saints had four players that averaged over 14 yards per catch in this game. Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean both arguably had their worst games of the season and rookie Zyon McCollum missed more tackles than he actually made. It was pretty bad. Hopefully, the Bucs will get Antoine Winfield Jr, Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting back sooner than later.
The Bucs somehow won this game despite losing the turnover battle 2-0 in the process. Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw his third interception of the season and rookie running back Rachaad White fumbled for just the second time in his career. But those were only half the story. The Bucs defense failed once again to force any turnovers. In fact, they have only forced 2 turnovers in their last 8 games. Only one team in the Super Bowl era has forced fewer in an 8-game span and that is the Rams with just one between Weeks 3-10 this season. They only have 11 takeaways through 12 games, which is the lowest total for any Buccaneers defense in the franchise’s 47-year history.
The Jumpship Chumps
In the beginning of the 4th quarter, with the Saints leading 16-3, Bucs “fans” began filing out of the stadium by the hundreds. Around here, we tend to call those people “Jumpship Chumps” because they elect to “jump ship” and leave if the Bucs are losing. My philosophy is that you stay until the clock strikes zero, no matter what. Not just because you paid your hard earned money for the ticket, but also because that’s what fans are supposed to do. If you love your team, then you stick with them through thick and thin. Through the good times and the bad times. Through the winning and the losing. It was disappointing to see so many people heading to the gates so early, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to the disappointment they felt missing that glorious comeback.
Tom Brady finished this game going 36 of 54 for 281 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, which are respectable numbers. However, most of that came in the final 5-minutes of the game where he was 14 of 19 for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns. That means that in the first 55-minutes of this game, he was 22 of 35 for 163 yards and 1 interception. That sucks. For the first three quarters against the Saints, he was underthrowing guys, overthrowing guys, missing wide open guys and looking generally uncomfortable in the pocket despite being sacked just once the whole game. He hasn’t been the same player all season. I don’t know what’s going on with him this year. Maybe old “Father Time” is finally catching up to him. Maybe all of his off-the-field drama has effected his on-the-field play. Maybe his personal life has been distracting him from being able to properly prepare himself mentally every week. Whatever it is, he needs to figure it out and get his shit together. Sure, he led the 44th fourth quarter comeback of his career in this game, but they never should’ve needed to “comeback” in the first place.
BIG BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : RT Josh Wells
He was no Tristan Wirfs, but the right tackle did hold his own on Monday night against Cam Jordan and the rest of the Saints defense. Since nobody else on offense really stood out from this game, I figured I’d give the big guy some love for not giving up any sacks.
DEFENSE : OLB Carl Nassib
I almost gave this one to linebacker Lavonte David for finishing this game with a team-high 12 tackles and a sack. However, we’ve come to expect those kinds of numbers from him. Instead I’m going with Nassib who only finished this game with 2 tackles, but also had two very important plays that helped the Bucs win this football game. The first was with about 8-minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Saints marching already up 13-3 over the Bucs. New Orleans had 3rd & 2 on the Bucs 11-yard line when Andy Dalton attempted a short pass in the flat to Alvin Kamara that would’ve been a first down and could’ve eventually led to a Saints touchdown and put them up by 17 points essentially sealing the win. But Nassib got his hands in the air and was able to get a piece of the pass and it fell incomplete. New Orleans settled for a field goal, which kept it a two-score game.
The second impactful play that he made was just as big. After the Bucs scored their first touchdown to cut the Saints lead 16-10, New Orleans got the ball back with about 3-minutes to go. The Bucs defense needed a three & out to give the offense a chance at getting the ball back again. On 1st & 10, they ran Alvin Kamara to the left for a gain of 3-yards. On 2nd & 7, with 2:54 on the clock, Dalton dropped back to pass and Nassib sacked him for a HUGE 10-yard loss. That sack made it 3rd & 17 for the Saints, which isn’t easy to overcome. On third down, Dalton almost completed a pass to Taysom Hill that would’ve been enough for a first down to seal the Bucs fate, but safety Keanu Neal came out of nowhere to knock the ball out of Hill’s hands. That made it 4th & 17 and the Saints had to punt, giving the Bucs the ball back with 2:40 left. The rest is history.
BAD BUCS OF THE DAY
OFFENSE : LT Donovan Smith
After playing his worst game of the season in Cleveland, Smith followed it up with another poor performance against the Saints. He allowed the only sack of the game on Tom Brady and also had 2 holding penalties in the 4th quarter. One of which cost them the initial game-tying touchdown to Chris Godwin. He’s had a team-high 9 flags, including 5 holds, in the last 7 games. He now has 31 holding penalties in his career, the most by any offensive lineman since 2015. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Smith is the Bucs lowest rated offensive lineman this season ranked 70th out of 77 tackles. Nick Leverett is ranked 37th out of 86 guards. Believe it or not, Robert Hainsey is ranked 13th out of 38 centers. Shaq Mason is ranked 19th out of 86 guards. And Tristan Wirfs is ranked 4th out of 77 tackles. Smith is clearly the weak link in this Bucs o-line and needs to start playing much better if he wants to stick around next season.
DEFENSE : CB Zyon McCollum
The rookie had his worst game yet against the Saints on Monday night. He finished with 5 tackles, but might have missed more tackles than that. With Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. out, he got more snaps than usual playing the nickel role and it was not a good showing. Besides missing tackles, he was a liability in coverage giving up multiple big chunk passing plays. He may be a solid gunner on special teams, but he’s not quite ready to play cornerback with the big boys just yet.
THE WRAP UP
The Buccaneers under-performed for 55-minutes of this 60-minute game. For whatever reason, the offense and defense both were able to turn it on at the end and work together to pull out a win. The offense needs to play much better. Even though they finished 8 for 15 on third down, they still rank 31st in the league (trailing just the Carolina Panthers) on third and long (3rd & 7 or more) converting just 14% of the time. Oddly enough, they are just 2 for 27 when targeting Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Julio Jones on those plays. They totaled just 350 yards against the Saints (274 passing, 76 rushing) on 75 plays averaging just 4.7 yards per play. The offense can’t continue to play this way if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs. They have got to get something going to make a run.
The Bucs defense held the Saints to just 298 total yards (232 passing, 66 rushing) on 56 plays averaging 5.3 yards per play. They held them to 5 of 14 on third down and just 14 first downs. Another odd stat from this game is that the Bucs 18th ranked rush defense held Alvin Kamara to just 2.2 yards per carry and Mark Ingram to just 3.9 yards per carry, but their 5th ranked pass defense allowed four different players to average more than 14 yards per catch. I assume that’s because the Bucs were missing three key members of their secondary, so hopefully those players will be returning soon so that this entire defense can get back on track.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
At 6-6, the Bucs now have a two-game lead on the Atlanta Falcons (5-8) and a three-game lead on the Carolina Panthers (4-8). The Bucs are sitting in the fourth seed for the playoffs right now. The San Francisco 49ers (8-4) are in third place in the NFC. If the Bucs can pull out a win against them on Sunday, it gets them within a game of that third seed with four games left. If the playoffs started today, the Bucs would be hosting the Dallas Cowboys (9-3) in the first round of the playoffs. Theoretically, the Bucs could clinch the NFC South title next week against Cincinnati, but a bunch of things would have to happen perfectly for that to happen. Tampa Bay would have to beat the Niners and Bengals. The Panthers would have to lose their next two games. And the Saints would have to beat the Falcons in Week 15. At that point, the Bucs would be 8-6 and control all of the tie-breakers needed with three weeks left. On the other hand, they could lose their next three games and still win the division with an 8-9 record by beating the Panthers in Tampa and the Falcons on the road.
THE LOOK AHEAD
I thought that I would feel better about the Bucs going to San Francisco after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with his injury, but I really don’t. They still have newly acquired Christian McCaffrey at running back and the terrifying Deebo Samuel at wide receiver to go along with the #1 defense in the league. It doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback. This is going to be the toughest test for the Bucs this season, especially for the offense. If there was ever a time for Tom Brady and the boys to get their heads out of their asses and start playing the way we all know they’re capable of, this is the game. It may not be a “must-win” game, but it’s definitely a game that they need to win. They need to start building some momentum. They need to get on a streak. They need to start playing like a playoff team and not just a team that’s going to win a bad division by default. They got the ball rolling with the Saints. Now they just need to keep it rolling through the Niners.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!