With that 5-2 record, Tampa Bay remains on top of the NFC South as the season’s halfway point approaches. Simply put, everything is coming together well for Bruce Arians’ team right now. It may have taken some time to materialize consistently, but the offense appears to be clicking like everyone hoped it would, with Tom Brady playing at an elite level to lead the way. Defensively, the Bucs have been even better, ranking in the top 10 in just about every statistical category through seven games, as pointed out by The Athletic’s Greg Auman. And with a very winnable game against the Giants coming up in Week 8, the Bucs could find themselves at 6-2 heading into a massive Week 9 showdown against the Saints.
Speaking of the Saints, it’s time to see how they—along with the rest of the division—fared this past weekend. Let’s dive in.
New Orleans Saints (4-2)
The Saints returned from their bye week on Sunday to take down the division rival Panthers at home by a score of 27-24. They found themselves up 14-3 early in the second quarter thanks to two Drew Brees touchdowns, but Carolina came storming back with a 10-0 run to take a 17-14 lead late in the first half. But with two seconds to go before the break, Brees found Deonte Harris for a four-yard score to take a 21-17 lead into the locker room. A Wil Lutz field goal extended the lead to seven with 4:24 left in the third quarter, but the Panthers tied things up heading into the game’s final quarter. The two defenses battled it out for most of the final 15 minutes, but a Lutz field goal with 7:55 to go made the difference in New Orleans’ third straight win.
Brees was exceptionally efficient in the win, completing 29 of his 36 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns, plus he added a score on the ground. Alvin Kamara once again eclipsed 100 total yards, rushing for 83 on 14 carries while catching eight passes for 65 yards. However, it was Marquez Callaway who finished as the Saints’ leading receiver, hauling in eight passes for 75 yards on 10 targets. Despite missing Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, New Orleans outgained Carolina 415-283 in the game, holding possession for 34:41. That was good for nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession, with third-down efficiency being a huge reason why. The Saints finished 12-of-14 on third down.
Up Next: at Chicago Bears (5-2)
Carolina Panthers (3-4)
The Panthers dropped their second straight game on Sunday, falling 27-24 to the Saints in New Orleans. It was a slow start for the Carolina offense, but a 10-0 run in the second quarter gave the visitors a 17-14 lead with 1:37 to go in the first half. The defense couldn’t hold on to that lead, though, with the Saints going 75 yards in 1:35 to take a 21-17 lead two seconds before halftime. After falling behind by seven in the third quarter, a Curtis Samuel touchdown run brought the Panthers even heading into the fourth quarter. But the offense failed to muster anything up in the final 15 minutes, with a New Orleans field goal making the difference in the game. Ultimately, it was the inability of the Carolina defense to get off the field on third down that cost Matt Rhule’s team the game. The Saints went 12-of-14 on third down, contributing to a huge time of possession advantage.
Teddy Bridgewater matched Drew Brees in the game, completing 23 of his 28 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. DJ Moore was his leading receiver, catching four passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, while Robby Anderson added six receptions for 74 yards. The run game, which was still without Christian McCaffrey, struggled again this week. Mike Davis ran just seven times for 12 yards, and he finished as the team’s leading rusher. The pass rush for the Panthers also contributed to the struggles in this one, as the defense only had one sack and two quarterback hits in the loss.
Up Next: vs. Atlanta Falcons (1-6) — Thursday Night Football
Atlanta Falcons (1-6)
The Falcons continued their disastrous 2020 season on Sunday with a 23-22 home loss to the Lions. Atlanta found yet another creative way to lose in this game, perhaps unsurprisingly. Trailing 16-14 with just over a minute to go, Matt Ryan and the offense found themselves in position to chew some clock and kick an easy game-winning field goal. Instead, Detroit appeared to ease up in hopes of getting the ball back, and Todd Gurley took the bait. He scored a 10-yard touchdown and the Falcons got the two-point conversion to go up 22-16, but there was still 1:04 for the Lions to work with. That proved to be enough time, with Matthew Stafford leading an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson as time expired. It was a huge step back for Atlanta after it finally picked up its first win of the season last week.
Despite his late-game miscue, Gurley had a solid statistical day. He ran for 63 yards and two scores on 23 carries, providing a good complement to what was a 338-yard, one-touchdown day for Ryan. Julio Jones led Atlanta’s receiving corps with eight catches for 97 yards, while Calvin Ridley added five catches for 69 yards and a score. The Falcons actually had a pretty good day on defense too, racking up two sacks, six quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss. They held the Lions to just a 3-for-10 mark on third downs and ran 11 more plays, but Detroit found a way to win, leaving interim head coach Raheem Morris with yet another loss to try to bring his team back from.
Up Next: at Carolina Panthers (3-4) — Thursday Night Football