As I watched the Cincinnati Bengals recover from a sluggish first half to demolish the Philadelphia Eagles last night, I shook my head. For the life of me, I still can't understand how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew an 11 point lead in a little over four minutes of play against THAT team.
But as Coach Schiano is fond of saying, you can't let that team beat you twice. The Bucs situation is what it is and the focus shifts to the New Orleans Saints.
After an 0-4 start, New Orleans rallied winning five of six to get themselves back into the post season conversation. Unfortunately for them, they too have fallen apart down the stretch, losing their last three.
Neither team will likely be playing in the post-season, so now it's all about building for next season and deciding who will be part of the recovery for 2013.
Greg Schiano is going to be here - so there should be no quit in a Buccaneer squad that still has a shot at their second winning season in the past three years. The Saints players were finally vindicated in the BountyGate scandal and will be buoyed by that knowledge and an opportunity to kill any fleeting hopes of post-season play their division rival has.
Series: New Orleans leads 24-17
Last Meeting: Week 7, New Orleans won 35-28
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing game vs. New Orleans Saints Pass Defense
Will the real Josh Freeman please stand up? Is it the guy who was on fire in the middle of the season when the Bucs won five of six, averaged 30 points a game and Freeman threw 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions? Or is it the guy who completed 41% of his passes against the 31st ranked pass defense in the NFL?
Freeman had a career day against the Saints in the first meeting, throwing for 420 yds and 3 touchdowns in Tampa Bay's 35-28 loss. It was the ones that got away that haunts the Tampa Bay quarterback. It appeared that the Bucs had rallied to tie the Saints in the waning moments of the game but receiver Mike Williams had been pushed out of bounds and was the first to touch the football - making him an ineligible receiver for Freeman's last ditch touchdown pass.
Also a four down goal-line stand saw a 14 point swing as the Saints went 95 years to take a two score lead.
Its a loss that's haunted the Bucs and left them with a feeling of unfinished business.
New Orleans hasn't gotten any better, still ranking 30th in the league against the pass and may be without starting safety Malcolm Jenkins whose has an unknown mysterious injury (believed to be hamstring related) and has missed multiple days of practice this week.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running game vs. New Orleans Saints Run Defense
One of the regrets from the last meeting between the two teams was the feeling that the Bucs simply didn't run Doug Martin enough. Martin carried the ball just 16 times for 86 yds (a 5.3 average). With the Saints struggling at a league worst 154.2 yds a game and the Bucs defense ever suspect, you can expect the Bucs to get the ball into the hands of number 22 a lot more this week.
Since that game, Martin certainly has shown he can handle the load. The Bucs rookie phenom has been averaging 23 carries a game for 118 yds per game and 8 touchdowns.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
New Orleans Saints Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
It's pretty simple. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees. The perennial Pro Bowler is over 4,000 yds and 30 touchdown passes yet again. However, Brees has not been himself the last few weeks. Injuries and poor play along the offensive line have forced the New Orleans quarterback into more frequent mistakes. Throwing 9 interceptions, being sacked 7 times and just hitting on just 4 touchdown passes during New Orleans three game losing streak certainly hasn't helped the Saints chances.
Still, the Saints passing attack remains deadly - especially against Tampa Bay's patchwork secondary that is the league's worst by a wide margin.
When rookie Nick Foles throws for 388 yds against you - you have problems in the back seven, folks.
One positive for the Bucs is their pass rush finally came back to life, sacking Foles six times (including a pair by Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett). They'll need it against Brees, who was rarely harassed in the first contest, throwing for 377 yds and 4 touchdowns.
Advantage: New Orleans
New Orleans Saints Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
One of the ugly secrets in the NFL is Tampa Bay's vastly improved run defense. Cynical folks would say the reason the Bucs have such a good run defense is because everyone passes against them. Sure, eventually that is the case but the Bucs have seen more often than not that teams try to run the football early against them and give up.
A main reason for that is the Buccaneers are one of the league leaders in tackles for loss with 69 (LaVonte David leads the team with 17).
New Orleans counters with the three headed monster of Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. Sproles is more of a third down back and weapon in passing game coming out of the backfield while Thomas and Ingram have shouldered the workload for the running game. Of course, neither back has really generated the Saints attack, as they are near the bottom of the league in rushing, averaging just 96.1 yds a game.
Like most teams, the Saints didn't do much on the ground versus the Bucs the first time around, gaining just 81 yds on 3.1 yds a carry.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Both teams have solid kickers and punters. Connor Barth missed his only attempt against the Saints in the first meeting. Koenen averaged 42 yds a punt in three attempts. Garrett Hartley didn't attempt a field goal for the Saints in the first meeting while Thomas Morstead held to around his season average, drilling the ball for 51.3 yds a punt.
Return wise, the Bucs no longer have Regus Benn (injured) returning kicks. Tiquan Underwood handled the duties last week. Roscoe Parrish had two punt returns for 15 yds in the first game.
Darren Sproles didn't get an opportunity to return any kickoffs in the first meeting with Tampa Bay but he did return a punt 15 yds.
Advantage: New Orleans
By the Numbers
- Tampa Bay is 10-13 all time in New Orleans
- Since becoming division rivals, Tampa Bay is 6-4 in New Orleans.
- Tampa Bay has won 3 of the last 5 trips to New Orleans.
- New Orleans has won two straight games in the series for the first time since 2006. The Saints have not won three straight in the series since 2003.
- New Orleans hasn't swept Tampa Bay in the season series since 2002, the first year the teams joined the NFC South.
- The teams have split the season series every year since 2007 (when the Bucs swept New Orleans).
- Josh Freeman has thrown 20 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in his last nine games.
- Drew Brees has thrown 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his last nine games.
- Tampa Bay's secondary has 17 interceptions on the year, good for fourth in the NFL.
- New Orleans is tied with Indianapolis for the most interceptions thrown this season (18).
- Tampa Bay is 6th in the NFL in turnover margin (+12), New Orleans is 20th (-4).
I have to admit, I went back and forth a bit with this game. Tampa Bay played so poorly against Philadelphia, it's hard to believe they're capable of going on the road and beating anyone, none the less Drew Brees and the Saints.
Still, I think the Bucs will be fired up for this game as Tampa Bay felt they let one get away against New Orleans the first time around and they're going to want to make that wrong a right.
Freeman's performance against the Saints the first time around set him off on his hot streak, so we can only hope that he'll be able to duplicate that effort once again. I'd also expect a lot more Doug Martin in this one, trying to keep Brees off the football field.
I also think Brees is slumping a bit, throwing a lot of interceptions the last few weeks.
The Saints will likely be a little fired up because of the bountygate stuff but the Bucs still have some things to play for - including a winning season.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 34, New Orleans 31