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Around the NFC South: Week Nine

The rest of the division continues to soar while the Buccaneers fall flat.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Nine weeks of the 2018 NFL season are gone and it’s hard to believe that the Buccaneers did, at one time, lead the NFC South. Their 42-28 road loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday dropped them to 3-5 on the year. There’s likely no coming back for Tampa Bay, which could mean the end is near for head coach Dirk Koetter and his staff. Koetter has already fired his defensive coordinator and changed his quarterback, so there aren’t a lot of options left.

While the Bucs continuously fail to show up for a full 60 minutes, the other three teams in the NFC South are repeatedly proving why they are in playoff contention year in and year out. Let’s check in on what unfolded around the rest of the division this week.

New Orleans Saints (7-1)

The Saints took a 35-17 lead into halftime against the previously-undefeated Rams before ultimately winning 45-35. Drew Brees controlled the game early on, completing 17 of his 22 passes in the first half for 211 yards and three touchdowns. The game was locked at 14-14 midway through the second quarter, but New Orleans went on a 21-0 run from there. Brees found Tre’Quan Smith and Benjamin Watson for touchdowns before Alvin Kamara added to the lead with a one-yard touchdown run. Los Angeles made it a game again by going on an 18-0 run from the final minute of the second quarter until the 6:23 mark in the fourth. But after that, the Saints scored the game’s final 10 points to hand the Rams their first loss of the season.

Brees finished the afternoon with 346 yards and four touchdowns on 25-of-36 passing. Michael Thomas continued his spectacular season with 211 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches. Kamara had another big day of his own, rushing for 82 yards and two touchdowns while catching four passes for 34 yards and another touchdown. With the victory, the Saints held on to first place in the division and moved into a tie with the Rams for the top spot in the NFC.

Up Next: at Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)

Carolina Panthers (6-2)

The Panthers won for the fifth time in their last six games on Sunday, beating the Buccaneers 42-28 at home. A franchise-record 35 points in the first half was enough to give Carolina a comfortable lead. After a punt on their opening possession, the Panthers put up touchdowns on five straight possessions to end the half. Four different players scored those touchdowns: Alex Armah, Christian McCaffrey (two), Curtis Samuel and Greg Olsen. The Bucs tried to come back in the second half, scoring 21 straight points to get within 35-28. On the next drive, Cam Newton threw his second touchdown pass to seal the victory.

Newton finished the afternoon 19-of-25 for 247 yards and two touchdowns, but McCaffrey was Carolina’s top performer. He ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries while catching five passes for 78 more yards. Olsen caught all six of his targets for 76 yards and a score. The sleeper for player of the game was Samuel, who had two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). The Panther defense struggled in the second half, but both Eric Reid and Donte Jackson intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick for the game’s only two turnovers.

Up Next: at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)— Thursday Night Football

Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

The Falcons got themselves back to the .500 mark on Sunday with an impressive 38-14 road win over the Redskins. Atlanta took a 21-7 lead into halftime and coasted from there. It was another well-rounded performance for the Falcons, who have now won three straight. Matt Ryan and Tevin Coleman connected for a 39-yard touchdown to start the scoring before Ito Smith extended his team’s lead to 14-0. After an Alex Smith touchdown pass brought Washington within 14-7, Ryan and rookie Calvin Ridley linked up for a 40-yard score. With another Ryan-to-Coleman connection early in the third quarter, the game was comfortably in hand for Atlanta.

Ryan finished his day with 350 yards and four touchdowns (to one interception) on 26-of-38 passing. The veteran quarterback had plenty of help from Coleman, Ridley and Julio Jones. Coleman ran 13 times for 88 yards and caught five passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Along with his touchdown, Ridley had six catches for 71 yards. Jones was the team’s leading receiver once again, catching seven passes for 121 yards and his first touchdown of the year. Atlanta’s offense put up 491 total yards.

Up Next: at Cleveland Browns (2-6-1)