Bucs Run Over by Saints, Lose Control of NFC South
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost for the first time at home in 2020 on Sunday night, but not for the first time to the New Orleans Saints, who completed a season sweep with a dominating 38-3 victory and took over first place in the NFC South.

The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 6-3 on the season and 3-1 at Raymond James Stadium, while the Saints improved to 6-2 and took a half-game lead in the division, which they are seeking to win for the fourth straight season. Their win on Sunday in front of a prime-time national audience, coupled with a 34-23 win over Tampa Bay in New Orleans in Week One, gives the Saints a significant head-to-head tiebreaker edge.

Tampa Bay saw a three-game winning streak come to an end, while the Saints won their fifth in a row. The lopsided result surprised Tampa Bay Head Coach Bruce Arians. "It was shocking," said Arians. "To watch us practice, the way we practiced all week, the confidence we had coming in…we have to go back in look in the mirror as coaches, players, everybody."

The Buccaneers have now played three games in prime time, with one more scheduled for Week 11 when they will host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. Tampa Bay lost to Chicago on Thursday Night Football, 20-19, in Week Five, then snuck by a one-win New York Giants squad, 25-23, on Monday Night Football last week.

"That's one of the things we have to look at because that's what we just addressed in the locker room," said Arians. "We have stunk in those games. We won one of them but we should have won the other one but we didn't. This one we just basically handed it to them."

Tampa Bay came into the weekend with the NFL's second-best scoring differential but suffered its worst defeat since a 48-10 decision at Chicago in Week Four of the 2018 season. The Buccaneers avoided being shut out for the first time since 2016 – also against New Orleans – when K Ryan Succop hit a 48-yard field goal with six minutes left in regulation.

Despite welcoming WR Chris Godwin back from an injured finger and debuting recently-signed WR Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay's offense started the evening extremely slowly. Tampa Bay's first four drives all went three-and-out, including one after Jordan Whitehead had snipped a scoring threat at the two-yard line with a forced fumble against TE Jared Cook, with Lavonte David recovering. The Buccaneers didn't record their initial first down of the game until three-and-a-half minutes had elapsed in the second quarter. The momentum was short-lived. Immediately after rookie WR Tyler Johnson got that first down with an 11-yard catch, DT David Onyemata intercepted a Tom Brady pass that was tipped by DE Marcus Davenport and then deflected off another player.

The Saints made good use of the excellent field position those brief Bucs possessions created, scoring on drives of 65, 35, 50 and 27 yards in the game's first quarter-and-a-half, and their 31-point halftime lead put the game away early. By the end of the game, the Saints had an average drive start of the 37 (despite one that started at their own one-yard line) compared to the Bucs' average start of the 27. New Orleans rolled up 420 yards of offense on the evening, compared to 194 for the Buccaneers.

"It's about playing better and execution and we all have to do our jobs a lot better," said Brady. "When you play good teams there's little margin for error. They've been a great team for a long time. They've got a lot of good players. If we're going to beat them we've got to play a lot better than we did tonight."

There was very little for the Buccaneers to point to as silver linings on the evening. The Bucs' top-ranked rush defense gave up a season-high 138 yards as Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill combined for five runs of 10 or more yards. The Bucs had only allowed 10 such runs in the first eight games of the season. Tampa Bay's own rushing attack started out slowly and then was essentially abandoned due to the big scoreboard deficit, finishing with just eight yards.

Even the team's most impressive statistic of 2020 – a streak of 22 straight goal-to-go drives that resulted in touchdowns – came to an end in the third quarter when the offense failed on four straight tries from the one-yard line. That scoring opportunity was set up by the second takeaway by the Bucs' defense, but it went for naught.

"The second half, we got the turnover and we don't score the touchdown," said Arians. "I thought that was the end of it right then and there. You have to give New Orleans credit; they kicked our ass in every phase."

And the historic matchup of over-40 Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks went in favor of the Saints' Drew Brees for the second time in 2020, with Brees even taking the all-time touchdown pass lead back from the Bucs' Tom Brady. Brady came in with a one-TD lead in that race, 561-560, but was held without a scoring pass for the first time in 2020 while Brees connected on four touchdowns.

Brady, who had 17 touchdown passes and just one interception in the Bucs' previous six games, extended his streak of interception-free passes to 200 straight passes during the first half but was then picked off three times in the last three quarters. It was only his second multiple-interception game of the season; the first was the season-opening loss at New Orleans. Brady was sacked three times and hit nine times in the game as he frequently was operating out of collapsing pockets.

"The pressure helps [create interceptions]," said Arians. "But when you're down 28 and you're not running, the pressure's coming. There's still no excuse for interceptions but he was getting hit."

Tampa Bay's offense produced season lows in a wide variety of categories, compiling just 13 first downs and converting on only one of nine third-down tries. The Buccaneers were also shut out on three fourth-down tries, including one that ended in Brady's third interception a desperation scrambling throw late in the third quarter. Tampa Bay's rushing total was its lowest in a single game since it finished with 12 yards against Kansas City on Sept. 13, 1981.

The Buccaneers' defense got a sack and forced fumble from OLB Shaq Barrett, recovered by S Mike Edwards, as well as David's first-quarter fumble recovery. ILB Devin White led the team with 14 tackles and DL Will Gholston recorded three tackles for loss. For much of the night, however, the Bucs' third-ranked defense was unable to get off the field. The Saints converted on nine of 14 third downs and also were successful on one of two fourth-down tries, and they didn't punt until the third quarter.

The Buccaneers will travel to Charlotte in Week 10 to play another division game against the 3-6 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. "Everybody's pissed off, but it's too late now," said Arians. "We've got to get ready for Carolina. It can't carry over to Wednesday. It has to be gone by Monday and hit the practice field ready for Carolina."

Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 9 November 2020