Coming into Week 12, the Buccaneers’ hopes of winning the NFC South were already slim. And after another slow start led to a second straight loss at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay’s chances are long gone, especially considering the success of the division leaders this week.
The Bucs simply can’t get out of their own way these days, with offensive inconsistencies and questionable play-calling becoming a theme of this season. Nonetheless, the team heads into its Week 13 bye with a 7-5 record, still sitting in a playoff position and well within range of getting a higher seed than the No. 6 spot it currently finds itself in. Plus, with all four of their remaining games against teams under .500, the Bucs should be set up for a strong month of December.
Before we head into the week off for Tampa Bay, it’s time to check in on the rest of the division and see how the other three NFC South teams fared over the Thanksgiving weekend. Let’s get it going.
New Orleans Saints (9-2)
Even without Drew Brees, the Saints continued to roll this week, although they were essentially gift-wrapped a victory on Sunday in Denver. With the Broncos having to start a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback due to their entire quarterback room dealing with COVID-19 protocols, New Orleans won 31-3. After a scoreless first quarter, the Saints put up 17 points in the second quarter. Taysom Hill ran for two scores en route to a 17-0 halftime lead, then Latavius Murray ran for two touchdowns in the second half to put the finishing touches on the blowout win. There wasn’t much offense in the game as a whole, with New Orleans outgaining Denver 292-112. The Saints also had 19 first downs to the Broncos’ six, plus the visitors won the turnover battle 3-1 on their way to a 2.5-game lead in the NFC South.
Hill wasn’t very effective through the air, but he didn’t have to be in this one. He completed nine of his 16 pass attempts for just 78 yards and an interception, but the New Orleans’ ground game—and its defense—got the job done. Murray ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries while Alvin Kamara added 54 yards of his own on 11 carries. Without much time to prepare and having not played quarterback since his days at Wake Forest, Kendall Hinton can’t be faulted for what happened in this one. He was only asked to throw the ball nine times for the Broncos, although he could’ve been better on those nine attempts, going 1-of-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions. This was a Saints win before the ball was kicked off, truthfully.
Up Next: at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
Atlanta Falcons (4-7)
The Falcons, to the surprise of many, dominated the Raiders at home on Sunday afternoon. A 16-3 halftime lead for Atlanta eventually turned into a resounding 43-6 victory that helped the team get out of the division’s cellar. Three Younghoe Koo field goals and a Calvin Ridley touchdown catch led to that 13-point lead at the break, then a 67-yard pick six by Deion Jones in the third quarter broke things open. Las Vegas could only get within 23-6 from there before another Matt Ryan touchdown pass, an Ito Smith touchdown run and two more Koo field goals put the finishing touches on a big win for the Falcons. They outgained the Raiders, who came in at 6-4, just 304-243, but they forced five turnovers to make the bigger difference. There may be no playoff hopes for Atlanta, but the team is playing hard for interim head coach Raheem Morris, at least.
Ryan completed 22 of his 39 pass attempts for just 185 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, with Ridley finishing as the leading receiver (six catches, 50 yards and a touchdown). Smith led the way on the ground with 65 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, but it was really Atlanta’s defense and special teams that got the job done against Vegas. The Jones interception and fumble recoveries from LaRoy Reynolds, Keanu Neal and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (who had two) were key for Atlanta, while Koo finished the day 5-of-5 on field goals, hitting from 38, 39, 30, 29 and 54 yards out.
Up Next: vs. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
Carolina Panthers (4-8)
The Panthers were the only other non-Bucs team in the division to lose in Week 12, falling 28-27 to the Vikings on a last-minute touchdown. After trailing 10-7 at halftime, Carolina had big third quarter, thanks to rookie Jeremy Chinn. On back-to-back defensive snaps, Chinn returned fumbles for touchdown. The first—a 17-yarder—gave the Panthers a 14-10 lead, while the second—a 28-yarder—extended that lead to 21-10. Minnesota fought its way back, though, after the two teams traded field goals. Kirk Cousins threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson—and got the two-point conversion—with 5:31 left to get the game within 24-21. Then, after a Joey Slye field goal extended the Panthers’ lead to six, Cousins led a seven-play, 75-yard drive in 1:05 to give the home team the lead with 46 seconds left. Teddy Bridgewater and the offense managed to get Slye within range for a game-winning field goal with six seconds left, but the 54-yarder was no good, allowing the Vikings to escape with the win.
Bridgewater, who missed Week 11 with an injury, returned on Sunday and finished with 267 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 19-of-36 passing. Robby Anderson caught Carolina’s lone offensive touchdown, adding to a four-catch, 94-yard day. It was Chinn who was the star for the Panthers, with those back-to-back scoop-and-scores being the highlight of the afternoon. The big difference in the ball game was Slye, who missed two field goals. Obviously, in a one-point loss, those kicks are going to loom large. Going 0-for-3 in the red zone certainly doesn’t help either.
Up Next: Bye Week