I remember thinking, ‘Oh dear God’ to myself as the entire NFL Total Access panel picked the Bucs to beat the Saints on Sunday Night Football.
Then I poured myself two fingers of bourbon after the Sunday Night Football crew —including Tony Dungy— went all in.
At that point, all bets were off.
Sunday night was supposed to represent a changing of the guard in the NFC South. The Bucs won three straight coming into their matchup with the Saints. Two of those wins were against the currently playoff-bound Packers and Raiders, which featured some of Tampa Bay’s best football of 2020. When you add in Chris Godwin’s return and the official debut of Antonio Brown, it seemed like everything was coming together.
Then kickoff happened.
Tampa Bay literally could not do anything right. It all started up front on offense, where the front five represented an old, rusty, swinging gate that you’d see on some farm in the backwoods of Tennessee (trust me, I know). Brady was hit nine times and sacked three times. The offense didn’t register a first down until the 11:36 mark in the second quarter. The Bucs had more punts (three) than first downs (zero) for the first 18 minutes of the game. Tampa Bay’s defense allowed a season-high 137 yards on the ground. The Saints’ 420 total net yards were just seven yards shy of tying the Bucs season-high against Carolina.
The Bucs were outcoached, as well. I had a theory leading up to this game that the Saints have the Bucs’ number and this past game cemented that hypothesis. Sean Payton and Dennis Allen know how to keep the Bucs out of rhythm — it’s obvious.
We know the Bucs have a primetime problem. Now we know they also have a Saints problem. This loss drops Tampa Bay back into second place in the division and in New Orleans’ shadow, yet again.
Folks were riding high on the Bucs coming into this game, but now the focus has shifted back toward the Saints. And they’ve absolutely earned it.
No one knows when said focus will return to the Bucs. But something tells me that it will have to have something to do with the Saints. Until then, the Bucs will just have to make do with what they have.