Three third quarter plays flipped momentum and doomed the Bucs
Roy Cummings, Florida Football Insiders, published 10 December 2018

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in command Sunday as they took a 14 – 3 lead to the locker room against the New Orleans Saints. Then two plays in the second half when DE Carl Nassib stripped QB Drew Brees of the football and the Bucs recovered, it appeared they were going to take off and beat the Saints for a decisive victory. It would have been in their third consecutive win and planted them firmly in the NFC wildcard picture with three weeks remaining in the season.

Alas, thre was still a lot of second-half to play and three critical plays that followed that fumble recovery in the third quarter turned the game around for good. And, it all enabled the Saints to win the NFC South on Sunday 28 – 14.

First, the Bucs could get nothing going after recovering a fumble and were forced to try a 40 yard field goal. Tampa Bay has struggled mightily to find any kicking solution over the course of the last five seasons. And, the latest guy to try to solidify the job botched things in a big moment. Cairo Santos pushed the attempt wide to the right and completely deflated the Buc sideline, as well as the home crowd.

Now in the short term, the Bucs defense in still held firm and forced the Saints to punt the ball Unfortunately the Bucs did nothing with the ball again and we’re going to have to punt themselves. And that’s when reserve quarterback, but special teams ace, Taysom Hill burst through the middle of Tampa Bay’s punt formation and blocked Brian Anger’s punt.

The complete momentum-changing play was recovered at the Bucs 30 yard line and shortly thereafter, Hall of Famer to be Drew Brees found TE Zach Line with a 1-yard touchdown. The Saints got the two-point conversion and trailed only 14-11. Then came the final critical sequence in the third quarter, which put the Saints in front for good.

A second half theme continued, where the Buccaneer offense couldn’t move the ball and had to punt, yet again. The Saints drove themselves inside the Tampa Bay five yard line. However, the Buccaneers defense stuffed Mark Ingram on 2nd and goal from the two. And then, when Brees threw incomplete to receiver Michael Thomas, it brought up 4th and goal just inside the one.

That’s when coach Sean Payton had a decision to make: kick the field goal and tie the game at 14 with a whole 4th quarter to play, or send a message to his team and the other sideline that “we are here to win this game no matter what.”

The Saints chose the latter option, going for it and Brees went up and over leaping and stretching the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead score on fourth down. An extra point made it 18-14.

New Orleans never looked back and clinched the division for the second consecutive season. And, in doing so, all but eliminated Tampa Bay from any playoff consideration at 5-8. Sure there were a lot of plays you could go back and analyze in this one, but those three in the third quarter?

They were crucial, and they all were plays that the Saints turned into a sweet revenge victory.