The New Orleans Saints are living rent-free inside the heads of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was no more evident in Sunday's 9-0 loss by the Bucs to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium, the first shutout loss of Tom Brady's Tampa Bay tenure.
Injuries to starting receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, as well as starting running back Leonard Fournette, literally left Tampa Bay hamstrung for the remainder of the game, as the inconsistent offense could not find any rhythm both before and after those players departed the game. And those injuries could have an effect on the remainder of the Bucs' season, as Tampa Bay failed to clinch the division title, as well as lost ground to conference-leading Green Bay in the race for the NFC's top seed.
The Saints defensive line dominated the game, with a solid game plan designed to disturb Brady, forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly, leading to a few overthrows and messing up the timing between him and who was left of his receivers.
After Fournette's injury, Ronald Jones came into the game and provided the spark the Buccaneers needed, carrying eight times for 63 yards, including a 30-yard burst down the right sideline in the third quarter.
As the Buccaneers looked to get on the scoreboard late in the third quarter, Brady scrambled on a 3rd-and-7 from the Saints' 24, and was stripped by New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, the ball recovered by Marshawn Lattimore to squelch the Bucs first true opportunity of the game to score.
But just as the Saints defense came up big when they needed to, the Tampa Bay defense held their own in the second half, with four straight three-and-outs, as the Saints really couldn't get anything going on offense.
However, the Buccaneers' defense could not hold the Saints for much longer, allowing the Saints to get into field goal range for Brett Maher, who hit his third field goal of the night, this from 42 yards, to give New Orleans an insurmountable 9-0 lead with 7:42 left, with the way the Bucs offense was playing. Or should we say, the Saints' defense.
As we all know, the key to beating a Brady team is to pressure him continually, which New Orleans achieved to perfection, sacking Brady four times.
While the Tampa Bay defense did not break, it was the vaunted Buccaneers offense that could not seem to find any sort of rhythm in the first half, much of that caused by the inspired Saints' defensive line, who got to Brady three times in the first half.
New Orleans got on the board first, taking a 3-0 lead in the first on a 39-yard field goal by Maher. The big play that got the Saints into position was a 42 yard pass play from Taysom Hill to Marquez Callaway.
Callaway came up big again on the Saints' next possession, as his 33-yard reception set up another Maher field goal, this one from 35, to give the Saints a 6-0 lead early in the second.
The Bucs went two possessions in the first quarter without attempting a run, as they failed to keep the Saints pass rush honest with any offensive mix. This resulted in Cameron Jordan sacks of Brady that ended two Buccaneers drives. His second sack moved the Bucs back to where Ryan Succop missed a 45-yard field goal attempt with 6:25 to go in the second quarter.
Also hurting the Bucs were those injuries to Godwin, Evans and Fournette. Godwin left the game in the second on a low hit to his right knee by Saints corner P.J. Williams, and Evans left the game later in the quarter with a hamstring injury. The Bucs were down their two biggest playmakers as the second half started, and lost another big playmaker early in the third, which portended the final result.
Next week, the Bucs will face division rival Carolina for the very first time this season. Coverage on 95.3 WDAE starts at 11 a.m. as Tom Krasniqi and Michael Clayton bring you Countdown to Kickoff, which you can hear at 1 p.m. on our sister station, 98ROCK.
Cover Photo: Getty Images