Tampa Bay entered their matchup against the Saints looking to keep their slim playoff hopes alive for another week.
There was plenty of reason for optimism after a strong first half of play had the Bucs in the lead by a score of 14-3, but a blocked punt and no second-half offense doomed the team.
Outside of a bad drop by Peyton Barber on the first play, things couldn’t have gone better for Tampa Bay on the first drive of the game. Winston came out and hit Mike Evans on a perfect deep ball for a 36-yard completion on the next play.
Barber took a run up the middle of the defense for 13 yards and then Winston scrambled away from pressure and added 14 more yards on the next play. The Bucs were in business at the Saints’ 12-yard line just four plays into the game.
Winston then found Cameron Brate on a beautiful back shoulder throw in the end zone on 3rd-and-9 for the game’s first points. Cairo Santos nailed the extra point and the Bucs led, 7-0.
Terron Armstead’s injury reared it’s ugly head early on as a holding penalty on Jermaine Bushrod - Armstead’s replacement - put the Saints behind the sticks and they couldn’t recover. They had to punt the ball from midfield and the Bucs took over at their own 25.
A defensive pass interference call prevented Tampa Bay from going three-and-out. A few plays later, wide receiver Adam Humphries too a huge hit while catching a pass over the middle for a first down on 3rd-and-7.
It was a major lick from Saints’ safety Marcus Williams, one big enough to cause Humphries’ helmet to come off as he hit the ground. Hump just popped back up, hyped more than ever and ready to go.
But Winston and Humphries couldn’t connect on the next third down try and the Bucs had to punt.
Carl Nassib came crashing through the offensive line and took down Alvin Kamara for an eight-yard loss on second down that forced New Orleans into just their 17th three-and-out of the season.
Tampa Bay was able to drive all the way down to the Saints’ 20 thanks to some big throws and a big run from Winston, but a gaffe by Donovan Smith on 3rd-and-9 led to the Saints’ first sack of the game.
The eight yard loss put Cairo Santos in position to attempt a 46-yard field goal. The kick looked like it was going to sail through the uprights until it curved at the last second and bounced off the right upright.
Brees and the Saints started at their own 36 after the miss and Brees immediately came out and found Thomas for a 17-yard pass that put them in Tampa Bay territory.
Another big reception by Thomas on 3rd-and-4 put the Saints in the red zone, but Tampa Bay’s defense held them to a 30-yard field goal and Will Lutz knocked it through. Tampa Bay’s lead was now 7-3.
The Bucs ran into a bit of luck after Chris Godwin fumbled his first reception of the day, only to have Brate fall on top of it. Multiple, idiotic penalties by several players on offense over the course of the next few plays saw the Bucs punt the ball back into the waiting arms of the Saints.
Now, the visiting team had a chance to score before halftime and would receive the ball after the half. This would be a big drive for the Tampa Bay defense.
The Bucs tried to challenge a questionable no-call on a Kamara fumble, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the down-by-contact call on the field.
As it turns out, Tampa Bay didn’t need that call to go their way, after all. Adarius Taylor read a Saints’ screen perfectly and stepped in front of throw to make the interception. He was able to rumble down the field for seven yards to the New Orleans 39-yard line.
The defense did its part, now it was the offense’s turn.
An illegal hit on a defenseless receiver call opened up the drive and Tampa Bay was able to take advantage, but it was Winston who made the play of the game up until this point.
He made multiple defenders miss on an exciting scramble and was able to find an open Humphries just before he crossed the line of scrimmage. Humphries was able to take the ball all the way inside the Saints’ one-yard line, stopping just short of the goal line.
Nice play by Jameis Winstonpic.twitter.com/Osa6tZH1tG— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 9, 2018
Winston found Brate for the second time of the first half in the back of the end zone off a play fake and the Bucs extended their lead to 14-3.
Winston to Brate Part II— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 9, 2018
Bucs ⬆ 11 pic.twitter.com/xZrvtYeuP5
The touchdown didn’t come without a price, however, as Demar Dotson landed on Winston’s plant leg. The quarterback looked to be in some major pain and went into the locker room early.
The Bucs went 5/8 on third down in the first half, compared to 2/5 from the Saints. The most impressive stat was Tampa Bay’s run defense. They allowed just three yards on the ground through the first two quarters.
The defense picked right up where it left off in the first half. Nassib came flying off the edge on second down and was able to knock the ball out of Brees’ hands. Jason Pierre-Paul was able to recover the ball and complete the strip-sack play.
But the Saints held strong on defense and forced another field goal attempt. This time, it was from 40-yards out and this one had no chance. Santos and the Bucs watched it sail wide left and the Saints were spared three points.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay has Vinny Curry on their side. He was able to crash through the B-gap and take Ingram down behind the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-1. It was the second three-and-out for the defense and the Saints had to punt.
More outstanding scrambling from Winston and a big catch by Evans helped Tampa Bay move the ball, but a big Godwin drop left the Bucs in punting position.
New Orleans’ special teams came up with the biggest play of the day and blocked the Bucs’ punt. The Saints were in business as they took over at the Tampa Bay 30.
Mark Ingram rumbled down to the Bucs’ 11 for 19 yards and a few players later, Brees found a wide open Zach Line for the Saint’s first touchdown of the game.
Alvin Kamara then ran in the two-point conversion on a quick toss to the left to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to three points, 14-11.
The second half struggles continued for the offense on the next drive. Winston was sacked twice and the end result was a three-and-out.
How ironic is it that at this point, it was the defense that needed to bail this team out?
Brees came out and hit Johnny Lee-Lewis for a 20-yard completion right off the bat. The Saints quarterback was then able to wait out the pressure and find Kamara for a first down on a 3rd-and-2. The Bucs’ defense was able to force the Saints’ offense into a 4th-and-goal from inside the one-yard line, but Brees leapt over the entire defensive line and was able to get the ball over the goal line. The extra point was good and the Saints now led, 18-11.
Tampa Bay couldn’t do anything with the ball on their next drive and the Saints took over. A big reception on third down by Michael Thomas sparked the rest of the drive that ended with an Ingram touchdown to run. It was the dagger the Saints needed and they now led 25-14 with about seven and a half minutes to play.
Both teams exchanged possessions until the Saints drove down and hit a late field goal to make it a 28-14 final.
Tampa Bay is now (5-8) on the season. They will travel to Baltimore next weekend. Kickoff is set for 1PM EST.