Saints Send Bucs to Fifth Straight Loss
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 6 November 2017|
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost in lopsided fashion in New Orleans on Sunday as the seasons for the Buccaneers and Saints continued to go in opposite directions. New Orleans' 30-10 victory was its sixth in a row after an 0-2 start, while Tampa Bay has dropped five straight since opening at 2-1.
The loss dropped the Buccaneers' 2017 record to 2-6, including an 0-2 mark in divisional play. The Saints improved to 6-2 and remained in first place in the NFC South over the 6-3 Carolina Panthers. The Buccaneers return home in Week 10 to face the New York Jets, with virtually all of their margin for error in 2017 erased.
"We weren't good enough in any phases, and of course that starts with me," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "When you play like we did today, I'm concerned about every aspect, and obviously that's my responsibility."
The Buccaneers had difficulty playing complementary football during the first four losses in the streak, with either the offense or defense struggling each successive week. However, neither side had a good day on Sunday in New Orleans, with the Saints rolling up 407 yards to the Bucs' 200. To make matters worse, quarterback Jameis Winston injured his throwing shoulder again and did not return in the second half. Left tackle Donovan Smith was also knocked out by a knee injury, but the scarier moment involved DE William Gholston, who was immobilized and carted off the field in the third quarter with what was reported as a neck injury.
Koetter shared a positive report on Gholston after the game. "The report I got is that Will is undergoing some neurological testing at the hospital and that right now he's neurologically sound," said Koetter. "But they're continuing to do some tests at a local hospital."
As for Winston, it is not yet clear whether this most recent injury, suffered on a hit right before the half, would cause him to miss additional time.
"Right shoulder injury, he's getting tested right now," said Koetter. "They're not sure yet if it's the same injury or a different injury."
The Buccaneers were held to a season-low 113 net passing yards, 3.5 yards per play and four-of-13 third-down success. The Saints recorded 256 passing yards, averaged 6.8 yards per play and converted on seven of 13 third downs. In addition, New Orleans' defense provided constant pressure on the Bucs' quarterbacks with four sacks and nine QB hits, while the Bucs' defense recorded just one sack and one quarterback hit. Tampa Bay also struggled with the Superdome atmosphere, committing seven penalties for 50 yards, most of them of the procedural variety.
"The type of football we're playing right now…we can't get punts blocked, we can't have four sacks, we can't miss tackles in the run game and not be able to run the football," said Koetter. "We're just not playing good enough in any aspect and, again, that all starts with the head coach."
Ryan Fitzpatrick relieved Winston for the second time in the last four weeks due to injury and did get the Buccaneers in the end zone in the fourth quarter with an eight-yard touchdown pass to TE Luke Stocker after Chris Godwin recovered a muffed punt by Willie Snead. Fitzpatrick completed eight of 15 passes for 68 yards, that one touchdown and no interceptions, and he also ran three times for 30 yards. Before he left the game, Winston was limited to 67 yards on seven-of-13 passing.
Second-year RB Peyton Barber was a mild bright spot for the offense, leading the team with 54 yards from scrimmage and taking over in the backfield in the second half. The Bucs had no luck getting starting tailback Doug Martin going, as Martin gained just seven yards on eight carries. On defense, LB Lavonte David stood out, recording seven tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. David's forced fumble against RB Alvin Kamara in the second quarter set up Murray's field goal.
Overall, however, the Buccaneers had little luck slowing down the Saints' dynamic running back duo of Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara scored on a 33-yard reception and a six-yard run and had 152 total yards from scrimmage, while Ingram added 79 combined yards. QB Drew Brees was surgically precise, completing 22 of 27 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
It wasn't a particularly good day for the Buccaneers' special teams, either, though Patrick Murray continued to be a reliable long-distance weapon, making a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. Murray also made a 54-yarder in the fourth quarter but time had been called right before the snap and he missed the retry. In addition, Ryan Smith blocked an extra point and the Bucs' recovered a fumble on a punt return.
The most disastrous moment in the kicking game, however, was a blocked punt that Justin Hardee returned seven yards for the game's first touchdown. That was the first blocked punt return score against the Buccaneers since 1995. Punter Bryan Anger ended with a 34.9-yard net average on seven punts.
Neither offense scored a touchdown for most of the first half, until the Saints mounted a 93-yard drive in the final two minutes, ending in Kamara's tackle-breaking, 33-yard catch-and-run. However, New Orleans still took a 13-point lead into the intermission thanks to the blocked-punt touchdown. Tampa Bay's defense created the only turnover of the first half but the offense bogged down, notching just 88 net yards as Winston was sacked twice. After averaging more than 24 points per game through their first six outings, the Buccaneers have scored just 13 total points in the last two and had a stretch of seven straight quarters without a touchdown.
The situation worsened immediately when the second half begin. Winston didn't come back onto the field due to a shoulder injury, and after a Buccaneer three-and-out the Saints immediately drove 72 yards on six plays for another touchdown, Kamara's second on a six-yard run. A fumble by rookie TE O.J. Howard two plays later led to Brees's touchdown pass to Ginn on the next snap and the Saints had pushed their lead to 27 points in just six-and-a-half minutes.
The Saints struck first on an extended, six-minute drive to start the game. A 16-yard Kamara run got the ball to midfield and Brees then converted a pair of short third downs with completions to Thomas and Ginn. However, on third-and-four from the Bucs' 21, Brees tried to hit Thomas on a quick curl and David jumped the route. Though he couldn't hold for an interception, David's pass defensed forced the Saints to settle for Wil Lutz's 40-yard field goal.
Tampa Bay's first drive never got going. Two Martin runs left the Bucs in a third-and-five and a quick out to RB Charles Sims failed to move the chains thanks to LB A.J. Klein's solid tackle. Things got immediately worse when Hardee streaked straight up the middle of the Bucs' punting unit, easily blocking Anger's kick and corralling the loose ball for a seven-yard run into the end zone. CB Ryan Smith blocked the ensuing extra point attempt, leaving the Saints with a 9-0 lead.
A false start put the Bucs in an early hole on the next drive but completions of 11 yards to DeSean Jackson and nine to Cam Brate moved the chains, and a pass-interference flag on a pass to Jackson got the ball over midfield. A five-yard scramble by Winston left the Bucs in a third-and-four at the Saints' 43, and Mike Evans was pushed out of bounds while trying to make a leaping sideline catch downfield. Anger punted it down to the Saints' 11.
The Bucs' defense got a three-and-out but not without a brief scare. Tampa Bay brought a safety blitz on third-and-eight and Brees read it, going deep down the middle to Ted Ginn. However, Ginn, who was free behind the entire defense, couldn't locate the pass and it fell incomplete. Tampa Bay got over midfield again on the next possession but missed an opportunity on a deep pass to an open Jackson. Winston converted one third down with a keeper just past the sticks but the next one, on third-and-12, ended in a Cameron Jordan sack and a punt.
New Orleans got into scoring range on the next drive but the Bucs came up with the game's first takeaway to avoid falling farther behind. David forced his fourth fumble of the season on a short run by Kamara, with S T.J. Ward recovering for the Bucs at the 28.
Jackson turned a short slant into a 14-yard gain by weaving through traffic, then got eight more on an end-around. Several tough runs up the middle by Barber got the Bucs into a second-and-one at the Saints' 29, but that quickly turned into third-and-13 thanks to a pair of procedural penalties on the lines. Winston kept the third-down play alive for a long time with a winding scramble, but his pass to Sims left the Bucs' four yards short of the sticks. Murray got the Bucs on the board with his 50-yard field goal.
The Saints quickly countered with a long touchdown drive, going 93 yards on seven plays. Ayers nearly ended it with a sack of Brees and a forced fumble but the Saints recovered and on the next play Brees scrambled around in the pocket long enough for Coby Fleener to come wide open in the middle for a 33-yard gain. The next play also covered 33 yards, which was the rest of the way to the end zone, as Kamara took a short pass and broke several tackles to score the game's first offensive touchdown.
Fitzpatrick came in to start the second half at quarterback but the Bucs' first drive was a quick three-and-out. Meanwhile, the Saints' first play of the second half was a 32-yard run by Ingram though an enormous hole at the line of scrimmage. Kamara got 17 more on the next play, quickly putting the Saints in scoring range. Kamara finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Howard fumbled at the end of a six-yard catch on the next drive, with safety Chris Banjo recovering for the Saints at the Bucs' 36. Brees immediately went for the end zone, throwing down the middle of the field to Ginn for a one-play, touchdown drive and a 30-3 Saints lead.