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Buccaneers vs. Saints recap: Just not good enough

The Bucs had a chance to take first place in the NFC South, but consistency continued to evade them in a 31-24 loss to the Saints.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Coming off a 55-40 road win over the defending NFC champion Rams last week, the 2-2 Buccaneers headed to New Orleans Sunday for a big NFC South matchup with the 3-1 Saints.

With first place in the division on the line, Tampa Bay was getting a New Orleans team without Drew Brees, but also one that had won back-to-back games without him. The game was the Bucs’ second in a long stretch away from Raymond James Stadium, but they came in with a 2-0 record on the road (as opposed to 0-2 at home).

Tampa Bay won the toss and elected to receive, and the offense looked to get going early with a nice run from Peyton Barber and a completion from Jameis Winston to Cameron Brate. However, the group stalled near midfield and had to punt the ball away.

The Saints, with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, quickly got to midfield themselves before a third-down drop by Jared Cook forced a punt.

Winston and the offense quickly went three-and-out on their next drive, which gave the ball back to Bridgewater and the Saints. They quickly got into scoring range thanks in large part to a 34-yard pass from Bridgewater to Michael Thomas, who beat Carlton Davis. The Bucs forced a 4th & 1, but Alvin Kamara picked up the first down with a six-yard run. But from there, the defense stood tall and forced a 29-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, which gave New Orleans a 3-0 lead with 3:58 to go in the first quarter.

Tampa Bay’s slow offensive start continued on the ensuing drive, with a 3rd-&-3 pass going off the hands of Mike Evans. On Bradley Pinion’s punt, T.J. Logan knocked the ball loose from Deonte Harris, and the fumble was recovered by Antony Auclair. After the officials initially ruled Harris down by contact (somehow) Bucs head coach Bruce Arians threw the challenge flag. The officials came back and said there was a fumble, but there was no clear recovery (somehow), so the ball stayed with the Saints.

Arians had some colorful language for the officiating crew, but the Buccaneer defense quickly proved that the ball, in fact, doesn’t lie. On third down, Kamara bobbled a pass that was intercepted by rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting. After the second-rounder’s first career pick, it was Tampa Bay’s ball at the 20-yard line.

After Winston was sacked on first down, he did an excellent job on second down of climbing up in the pocket to find an open Chris Godwin, who took it the rest of the way for a 26-yard touchdown. Matt Gay’s extra point made it a 7-3 Tampa Bay lead at the end of the first quarter.

New Orleans got into Tampa Bay territory early in the third quarter, with Bridgewater and Taysom Hill both connecting with Thomas for first downs. A short while later, Bridgewater found Thomas again, this time for a 14-yard touchdown. Lutz’s extra poing made it a 10-7 Saints lead with 10:13 to go in the first half.

The Bucs started their next drive with a heavy dose of Ronald Jones. The second-year running back ran for 14 yards, then gained three more before catching a screen for 10 more. Rookie Scotty Miller then got in on the action with an 18-yard carry around the edge, getting all the way down to the Saints’ 30. After going backward to set up a 3rd & 15, Winston found Jones on another screen to get some yards back. The Bucs still came up four yards short, but it set up a 42-yard field goal from Gay that tied the game at 10.

The Saints started their next drive with a holding call, but got the yards back with an unnecessary roughness call on Carlton Davis, for which he was ejected. From there, the New Orleans offense moved down the field with ease. With 32 seconds to go in the half, the Saints took a 17-10 lead on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Jared Cook and a Lutz extra point.

Bridgewater finished the half nine for his last nine after the interception to Murphy-Bunting. Tampa Bay had possession for just 11:24 in the first half, compared to New Orleans’ 18:36.

The Saints — already leading by seven — received the kickoff to open the second half. Bridgewater started the third quarter with a 42-yard pass to Thomas, but the officiating crew missed yet another call, failing to see clear offensive pass interference this time. Arians challenged the no-call and lost again, for some reason. He was irate yet again, and for good reason. One play later, Bridgewater hit a wide open Ted Ginn Jr. for a 33-yard touchdown to put the Saints up 24-10.

Facing a crucial 3rd & 11 near midfield on their first drive of the second half, the Bucs converted with an 11-yard pass from Winston to Godwin. It was Tampa Bay’s first third-down conversion of the afternoon. Three plays later, the Bucs were facing 4th & 1. After calling their second timeout, they converted with a 14-yard pass to Godwin.

After a Winston and scramble and two runs by Jones, the Bucs were in the red zone. Winston then found Godwin for 12 more to set up first & goal. After two incompletions, Barber forced his way into the end zone for six. Gay’s extra point got the Bucs back within seven, putting responsibility back in the defense’s hands with five minutes to go in the third quarter. The Tampa Bay scoring drive was officially a 75-yarder that took 17 plays and drained 8:41 off the clock.

The Tampa Bay defense quickly got the job done, forcing Bridgewater to throw two incompletions thanks to some pressure from Carl Nassib and Ndamukong Suh. After a Thomas Morstead punt, the Bucs took over at their own 35.

Ali Marpet set the offense back five yards with a false start on the first play of the following drive, but the Bucs managed to get back to third down and a manageable two yards to go after a short run by Jones and an 11-yard catch by Bobo Wilson. Despite the manageable yardage, the Bucs couldn’t pick it up. Pinion’s 48-yard punt was downed at the Saints’ 9-yard line.

After getting the Saints to 3rd & 10, the Buccaneer defense gave up yet another big gain to Thomas, a 20-yarder. At the end of the third quarter, the Saints led 24-17.

The Saints had possession to start the third quarter and despite getting to third down three times, the defense couldn’t get off the field. With 10:37 to go, the Saints took a 31-17 lead on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Thomas. The scoring drive lasted 6:27, with New Orleans going 91 yards in 13 plays.

At a time when the Bucs needed a touchdown drive the most, the offensive line let them down spectacularly. Winston was sacked on first down by Marcus Davenport, who blew up Demar Dotson in embarrassing fashion. Two plays later, Winston had to scramble for his life yet again just to get a throw off, and it fell incomplete. Tampa Bay had to punt yet again.

The defense responded by coming up with a stop, but down 14 with 7:50 left, the Bucs found themselves in a do-or-die situation. After Winston was sacked again on first down, he found Godwin for 26 yards to the 39-yard line. After an incompletion, New Orleans came up with another sack to force a 3rd & 19. Then, whaddya know? Another sack to make it 4th & 28. The Bucs punted the ball away, pretty much throwing in the towel.

The Saints drove down the field and killed the clock, getting it below two minutes before turning the ball over on downs. With 1:10 left, Tampa Bay moved the ball down the field and scored on another 26-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Godwin. But it was too little too late as the score made it 31-24 with just 13 seconds to go. Pinion’s ensuing onside kick went out of bounds to put the game away.

Tampa Bay came in with a chance to make a statement and grab first place in the NFC South. By the time the clock hit triple zeroes, the Bucs had proven that they just weren’t up to the task. The offense couldn’t find a rhythm and the defense couldn’t get off the field, making for a huge letdown of a day for Bruce Arians and his team.

The Saints, even without Drew Brees, pretty much outclassed the Bucs in every aspect of the game. The Bucs clearly have plenty of work to do before they can be considered a legitimate contender. Quite simply, they proved that they just aren’t good enough yet.

Quick Stats

  • The Bucs totaled just 104 yards in the first half and had just 179 before the 78-yard scoring drive in the game’s final minute. They finished with 252 total yards.
  • Jameis Winston was sacked six times on the day for a total of 46 yards lost.
  • Tampa Bay ran 55 offensive plays to New Orleans’ 67, holding possession for only 26:33 of the game’s 60 minutes.
  • Teddy Bridgewater finished the game with 314 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 26-of-34 passing.
  • Michael Thomas caught 11 of his 13 targets for 182 yards and two scores.
  • Mike Evans had zero catches on three targets, bringing an end to his streak of 65 consecutive games with a catch.
  • Chris Godwin was pretty much the lone bright spot for the Bucs, as he caught seven of his nine targets for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
  • The Bucs won the turnover battle 1-0, but still gave up 457 total yards and 6.8 yards per play.
  • For the first time this season, Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t register a sack.

The Buccaneers return to the field next Sunday in London, kicking off against the Carolina Panthers at 9:30 a.m. ET.