The Buccaneers’ time as the sole leader of the NFC South is over (at least for now), thanks to a rough Thursday Night Football performance in Chicago against the Bears combined with some unfavorable results elsewhere in the division.
Tampa Bay first took possession of the division lead in Week 3 after its 28-10 win in Denver, then it held onto it with a 38-31 victory over the Chargers in Week 4. But things came crashing down in primetime, with Tom Brady and the offense hampered by penalties and execution issues. It was a winnable game that the Bucs let slip away, which has been an all-too-familiar issue for years. Now, they have to return home for a huge matchup against the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
But before we shift to Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, it’s time to look at what went down around the NFC South in Week 5.
New Orleans Saints (3-2)
After dropping two straight games in Weeks 2 and 3, the Saints are back above .500 after a 30-27 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football. Things didn’t look good for New Orleans early. With Michael Thomas suspended due to a practice altercation, the offense couldn’t get much going. The Chargers took advantage, with rookie Justin Herbert throwing three first-half touchdowns en route to a 20-3 lead just before halftime. However, the Saints came back, with a late first-half touchdown run by Drew Brees, a third-quarter field goal by Wil Lutz and a touchdown pass from Brees to Jared Cook early in the fourth quarter. Herbert threw for his fourth score of the night with 3:40 left, but an eight-play, 73-yard drive by New Orleans ended in the game-tying touchdown run by Taysom Hill with 52 seconds left. After a missed Los Angeles field goal at the end regulation, the Saints got a field goal and a stop in overtime to win the game and improve to 3-2.
Overall, it wasn’t the prettiest game for New Orleans, with Brees continuing to show some signs of his age. Even still, he completed 33 of his 47 pass attempts for 325 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also added a rushing touchdown as part of the team’s comeback effort. Emmanuel Sanders (12 catches for 122 yards) and Alvin Kamara (45 rushing yards, 74 receiving yards) stepped up in Thomas’ absence, but it’s hard not to feel like Sean Payton’s team was lucky to win this one. A missed extra point and a missed 50-yard field goal doomed the Chargers, allowing the Saints to hang around and steal it in overtime. Nonetheless, thanks to their Week 1 win over the Bucs, they have the tiebreaker for the NFC South lead.
Up Next: BYE WEEK
Carolina Panthers (3-2)
The Panthers continued their impressive run on Sunday, beating the division rival Falcons in Atlanta for their third straight win. It was a slow start for Carolina, as it fell behind 7-3 after one quarter, but a 17-point second quarter made for a comfortable halftime lead at 20-7. Atlanta hung around, scoring the next six points to bring things within one possession before another Joey Slye field goal made it 23-13 late in the fourth quarter. With one last possession, the Falcons kicked a field goal—with four seconds remaining—to make the final score look closer than it was. The Panthers earned this one comfortably, outgaining the Falcons 437-369 while winning the turnover battle 1-0. Matt Rhule’s team pulled even with the Bucs and Saints with the win, with the most impressive part being that this three-game winning streak hasn’t included one snap for star running back Christian McCaffrey.
Teddy Bridgewater’s resurgence continued on Sunday, as he completed 27 of his 37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. Mike Davis stayed hot in McCaffrey’s absence, rushing for 89 yards on 16 carries while catching nine passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. DJ Moore caught a touchdown of his own, adding to his four-catch, 93-yard afternoon, while Robby Anderson led Panthers receivers with eight catches for 112 yards. The Carolina defense held a high-powered offense in check, keeping Matt Ryan to a pedestrian day.
Up Next: vs. Chicago Bears (4-1)
Atlanta Falcons (0-5)
The nightmare of a season for the Falcons didn’t get any better on Sunday, with a 23-16 home loss to the Panthers sending them to 0-5 on the year. It also led to the firing of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The game started out on a good note for Atlanta, with Todd Gurley carrying a 10-play, 92-yard drive to open the scoring. But 20 straight Carolina points proved to be too much to overcome, with the offense managing just three Younghoe Koo field goals the rest of the way, with the last coming four seconds before the end of the ball game. Failing to score touchdowns in the red zone is what ultimately cost Atlanta, as did its inability to get to the quarterback. The defense came up with no sacks and just three quarterback hits while allowing 437 total yards.
Matt Ryan threw for 226 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on 21-of-37 passing. A large percentage of those passing yards came on throws to Calvin Ridley, who caught eight passes for 136 yards. Gurley only totaled 14 carries, but did a lot with them, posting 121 yards and the Falcons’ lone touchdown. He was also the second-leading receiver on the team, though he had just four catches for 29 yards. It was just a lackluster day overall for the Falcons, whose season is just about completely hopeless through five games. With Quinn and Dimitroff out and former Bucs head coach Raheem Morris serving as the interim, Atlanta has 11 games to figure out the direction the franchise will go from here.
Up Next: at Minnesota Vikings (1-4)