Just when it looked like they were on to something, they weren’t. Just when things started to come together, they fell apart. Just when you thought these guys weren’t so bad after all, they were.
Today was supposed to be the day I introduced a new Monday feature: Giving out game balls to the top performers on offense, defense and special teams. Surely, on a 53-man roster, someone would find a way to make a play. Maybe, by chance, someone would step in front of a Drew Brees pass, or find themselves caught conveniently between a Saints running back and the end zone. Perhaps the Saints would shank a punt or two so the Buccaneer offense could find out what life was like on the other side of the 50-yard line.
Turns out, there were none.
I thought about giving Michael Clayton a game ball for his first touchdown of the season, but I was afraid he’d drop it. I’m afraid the long arm of Murphy’s Law is cast over One Buc Place; uniformed officers surrounding the complex with sirens flashing and guns drawn, waiting for the order to strike.
Just when you thought it was safe.
After one quarter, tied at seven and with some momentum after racking-up 62 yards on the ground and capping off a 95-yard drive with Clayton’s 18-yard touchdown grab to open the game, it looked like two evenly matched teams fighting for NFC South supremacy.
Then the Saints showed up, to the tune of 38 unanswered points as they dominated every phase of the game, from coaching to special teams.
"We lost that game together," head coach Raheem Morris said. "We played a manageable first half, got some of the things we wanted to get accomplished: Keep Drew Brees off the football field, be able to run the football in the first half, limit the amount of his attempts. At the end there we let the rope go."
And with it the Buccaneers tumbled back down to the bottom of the NFL well, covered in muck and leftover newspaper clippings with discussions on who’s really the worst team in all the land. Meanwhile, the Saints are parading around at the top, whimsically lighting-up scoreboards with absurd frequency, flying too high to hear the cries from the bottom.
"They were doing a lot of things well," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "They ran the ball on us, they threw the ball on us and we really didn’t stop very much of anything. We have to go back to work Monday and clean up a lot of problems.
"That’s why they are 10-0. That’s also probably why we're where we are at. You saw one team really executing well and one team that didn’t execute nearly as well as they needed to compete with a team that’s very good right now. We have a lot to work on."
The illusion of stability presented in recent weeks makes the pounding the Saints dished out that much more difficult to swallow, especially after getting off to such a fast start against the Goliath.
"We have to compete better," defensive end Stylez White said. "In the first half we did well. It’s just frustrating to go out there and see the scoreboard. It’s frustrating."
Frustrating, yes, but there is good news: With each game we get one week closer to putting 2009 behind us. When January comes we can take this season, toss it in the shoebox in the closet with the old report cards and ex-girlfriends, and pull the whole thing out in a couple of years and laugh about all our old mistakes.
"Starting tomorrow, I am going to go in and watch this game and it’s going to be out of my system," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "I am going to move on to Atlanta, start with a clean slate and get ready for Atlanta. Next time the Saints roll around I’ll pull up this game and try to get as much as I can out of it. Right now, it’s just focusing on the Falcons."
Well, after a game so ugly, so fruitless and so mortifying, maybe it’s best not to pull that film out so soon, Josh.
Just when you though it was safe to look at the tape.