It's never easy in the NFC South is it? I don't know what it is about Raymond James Stadium that brings out the best in the normally putrid New Orleans Saints defense, but once again, New Orleans held Tampa Bay's offense under 20 points.
In their four straight wins at Ray Jay, New Orleans had surrendered over 20 points just once, and here we were again, with Drew Brees (or Boo Bees as Bucs Legendary Broadcaster Gene Deckerhoff says when he's overly excited on a play) poised to break Buc fans hearts once again.
This time, though, it would be different. This time the Bucs defense, returning to its glory days of yore, would do what it's done throughout this miraculous five game winning streak - slam the door shut.
1. You saw the comments after the game here on the BN. Fans dissatisfied with the way the Bucs won. Yes, the offense looked...well putrid for the majority of the game, especially in the red zone. But you know what? They did what they had to do. They didn't turn it over and they controlled time of possession, limiting Drew Brees chances to hurt the Bucs defense.
It's December football, folks. They don't ask how, just how many. Do you think the Giants give a flying flip about scoring just 10 points in a win over Dallas? Of course not. Will Washington apologize for having to rally to be the sad sack Eagles? Nope. Will Minnesota fans whine about nearly crapping the bed in Jacksonville? Absolutely not.
What matters is the W, how you get there is irrelevant.
2. For the first time since high school, Jameis Winston neither threw a touchdown pass or ran one in. Who would have thought it would be the Saints who broke his remarkable streak? Head Coach Dirk Koetter said blame the playcaller for the offense not putting up enough points on the board against a bad (and depleted) Saints defense.
Okay coach, we will. I didn't like the gameplan, I thought he was trying to play keep away too much and not letting the Bucs offense be aggressive and attack the Saints.
Part of it I think was the loss of Demar Dotson. While Gosder Cherilus was an effective replacement for Dot last season, he didn't look like the same guy spelling Dotson this week. Cam Jordan lived in the Bucs backfield, harrassing Jameis and blowing up running plays. Jordan would finish with 5 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1/2 sack and 2 QB hits on the day.
Jameis was off in this one. He didn't seem comfortable, is accuracy was spotty - he just didn't seem like the same quarterback we've seen the last few weeks. Luckily though, he didn't give the Saints any opportunities at a game changing turnover.
If the mandate was to get the lead, churn the clock and don't put the defense in bad field position with a turnover, the Bucs offense did its job. Of course, we all know that heading into the post season, if they get there, the Bucs offense will need to put points on the board.
Jameis is due a monster game, he hasn't thrown for more than 2 touchdowns since the Thursday night shibacle against Atlanta. Hopefully it will come in front of a National TV audience in Dallas.
3. The transformation of the Bucs defense from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the league's best is downright remarkable. I don't think I've ever seen a unit improve that much over a course of a season. Certainly, you see teams get better as you play - but not the night and day transformation we've seen.
And who they did it against. Okay, Jay Cutler sucks...but he's capable of putting up 300 yds and a few touchdowns on any team. Some call Alex Smith a game manager, ask Oakland about that. But Russell Wilson, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees ? These are elite quarterbacks in the NFL, folks.
Drew Brees has never played a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he failed to throw a touchdown pass. In the decade he's been in New Orleans, his offenses have scored a touchdown in each game with two exceptions, one of them being last night.
Say what you will about the Saints defense, but when you hold the number one offense in the league to just 9 points and no touchdowns, that's elite defense. That means you can play with anyone.
And think of this - after Josh Huff's brain cramp set the Bucs at their own one yard line and the Saints got that questionable safety (I still think Doug got the ball out of the end zone), Bryan Anger's ensuing kickoff landed out of bounds, giving the Saints the football at midfield. They would move it 40 yds and settle for a field goal.
Basically, special teams handed the Saints 5 points.
That's how dominant the Bucs defense was. The Saints scored just 11 points and 5 of them were gift wrapped as an early Christmas present. Wow.
4. That's not to bang on Anger at all. Special Teams helped the Bucs' superb defense win this game. Anger's two fourth quarter punts inside the 10 were remarkable and changed the course of the game. The Bucs defense wasn't going to let any quarterback - not even Drew Brees - drive 97 yards on them for a touchdown.
The much maligned Roberto Aguayo was perfect on all his kicks as well, giving the Bucs the cushion and forcing the Saints to have to go the length of the field for the game winning touchdown.
Huff's gaffe ruined an otherwise great day for the special teams. I'll say this about Huff, I think he will help more than he will hurt. It was a bad introduction, but I think the guy will provide some dividends.
5. It was good to see Charles Sims back for the Bucs this week. Sims is such an important weapon for Tampa Bay, I think having him back in the lineup gives Dirk Koetter another option to attack. With so many injuries to the receiving core, having a talented receiver out of the backfield like Sims will help with that.
6. The Bucs' assaut on the turnover margin continues to grow. Tampa Bay was a +3 on Sunday, giving them a +6 on the season, good for 6th in the NFL. Considering how badly they started the season, it truly is a remarkable turnaround. Keith Tandy had his second game clinching interception in a row, Vernon Hargreaves finally got off the snide and Brent Grimes registered his team leading 3rd pick of the season.
Drew Brees finished with 0 TDs and 3 ints for the second consecutive week for the first time in his NFL career. Coming into these two weeks, some were considering Brees as a darkhorse MVP candidate for the outstanding season he was having.
7. Not only did the Buccaneers manage to keep control of their playoff fate with the victory on Sunday, they also basically eliminated the their division rival Saints in the process. The Saints basically needed to win out and get a lot of help to have a chance at the post season and now that's all done with.
The question now is will the Saints quit on Sean Payton? We've seen the Jets quit on Todd Bowles and the Rams have obviously quit on Jeff Fisher. Both the Bucs and Falcons have dates with New Orleans left on their schedule, so they could still shape who wins the NFC South. If the Bucs win both of their remaining division games, they would finish 5-1 on the season in the NFC South. A loss by Atlanta to either New Orleans or Carolina (who appear to be trying to finish strong for Ron Rivera), would put them at 4-2 in division and swing the tie-breaker to Tampa Bay (division record takes precedence over common games).
Bottom line for the Bucs. They can take a loss to Dallas and still have a shot at the division title with some help, as long as they win their division games.
8. As much as next week's Dallas game will be on the minds of many, so will the Monday Nighter. Washington hosts the Carolina Panthers on MNF in a game with huge playoff implications. Washington narrowly escaped the Eagles on Sunday, having to rally to win. A loss by Washington would be very good for the Bucs playoff fortunes. The tie can either be a help or a hinderance for Washington. Right now its a hinderance, but a Bucs loss on Sunday Night could put them right back into playoff position. Minnesota rallied past Jacksonville to stay alive while Green Bay looked mighty impressive in beating Seattle, but Aaron Rodgers looked a bit worse for wear after that one.
The Bucs own a better conference record than either of these teams, so they own the tie-breaker if it came down to that.
9. Here it is, folks. The Big One. Dallas Cowboys at Jerry World. Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys had their 11 game winning streak snapped last night by their division rival Giants and you have to wonder a bit if Dak Prescott is hitting that rookie wall. After putting together a sensational rookie campaign, Prescott hasn't topped 200 yards passing in his last three outings. The Giants appear to be his kryptonite, as he's had his worst two games against them this season.
The Cowboys offense has managed just 24 points in their last two ballgames. Seems to be playing right into the stingy Bucs defense's hands right?
Well, the Cowboys defense has also held their last two opponents to just 25 points, so let's not start the parade just yet, especially with the Bucs offensive struggles.
Can the Bucs win this game? Absolutely. Will they? A lot of that depends on Jameis and the offense and the Bucs' defense ability to keep Ezekial Elliot gaining his yards between the 30's and not in their end zone.
Many have had this game penciled in as an L for a while now but the Bucs are 5-1 on the road and have gone into hostile territory in Atlanta and Kansas City and have come out winners. They've also showed the ability to play with the elite of the league in their abuse of the Seahawks.
A loss isn't the end of the world...but what a win would mean to the playoff hopes, folks.
10 DLT's game tweet of the week
Bonus: As I mentioned in the tweet, the Bucs have clinched their first non-losing season since 2010. For a team that has finished last in the NFC South 5 straight seasons - a modern day NFL record and has finished last in six of the last seven seasons, it feels great to have a team to proud of again.
Where we go from here, who knows, but thanks to the Bucs and Head Coach Dirk Koetter for allowing their fanbase to believe again. No matter how this ends, the needle is pointing up for Tampa Bay.