Last week’s NFC South Roundup started with the following:
“The dream of winning the NFC South mostly faded long ago for the Buccaneers, but they picked up a game in the standings on Sunday with a 26-14 win over the Vikings and some help along the way from the Eagles.”
Well, as much as the team’s division title hopes may have been fading a few weeks ago, that fade has slowed down considerably. With their win over the Falcons combined with a Saints loss to the Chiefs in Week 15, the Bucs kept their slim chances alive for another week. Tampa Bay may still be a longshot to win its first NFC South title since 2007, but it’s still a possibility. And that’s something.
The Bucs need wins over the Lions and Falcons in the final two weeks paired with Saints losses to the Vikings and Panthers to win the division crown. Again, it’s a longshot, but crazier things have happened, right?
Before we move on to the Christmas weekend action that lies ahead, let’s take one last look back at Week 15, shall we? It’s time to check in on the rest of the Bucs’ division foes to see how they fared in their third-to-last games of the regular season.
New Orleans Saints (10-4)
The Saints got Drew Brees back for Sunday’s big-time matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, but Brees didn’t look much like his normal self in the team’s 32-29 loss. He—and New Orleans as a whole—started slow, falling behind Kansas City inside the Superdome by a score of 14-0. Scoring 15 straight points got the home team a 15-14 lead in the third quarter, but the Chiefs responded with 14 straight of their own to retake a commanding lead. A 17-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lil’Jordan Humphrey with 2:06 left got the Saints within three, but the offense never got another shot.
The final score ended up being close, but nothing else about the game really seemed to be. The Chiefs had possession for 41:14 to the Saints’ 18:46 and outgained them 411-285, plus they had a huge edge in third-down efficiency. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense went 9-of-18 on third downs, while Brees and his offense finished just 1-of-11. And while Brees did throw three touchdown passes in the game, he was also intercepted once and completed just 15 of his 34 pass attempts. Granted, he was missing some of his top receivers, but it wasn’t a spectacular return for the veteran after he missed time with 11 fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
Up Next: vs. Minnesota Vikings (6-8) — Christmas Day
Atlanta Falcons (4-10)
Things looked extremely promising for Raheem Morris’ Falcons on Sunday against the Bucs, as they went up 17-0 by halftime and took a 24-7 lead into the final few minutes of the third quarter. But then the Falcons did what they always do: They blew it. From the 3:44 mark until the end of the game, Atlanta was outscored 24-3, leading to a 31-27 loss at home. Things started going south heading into the fourth quarter, but even after Tampa Bay tied the game at 24, Matt Ryan and his offense marched down the field to regain the lead with a 52-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo. But once the Bucs responded with a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Antonio Brown to make it a 31-27 game, the offense couldn’t get anything together again. So, despite dominating the first two and a half quarters, the Falcons picked up their 10th loss of the season.
Ryan was fantastic in the first half on Sunday and ended with a strong stat line, completing 34 of his 49 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. His primary target was Calvin Ridley, who caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, proving to be a huge problem for the Tampa Bay secondary. Russell Gage had his moments too, hauling in five passes for 68 yards and a score. But as good as things looked on both sides of the ball for the Falcons for much of the day, they once again failed to finish. The team is now 4-5 under Morris, who could still have a chance to see his “interim” tag lifted if his guys can keep playing hard over their final two games.
Up Next: at Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)
Carolina Panthers (4-10)
The Panthers took the field before anyone else in the NFC South did this past weekend, playing at Lambeau Field on Saturday Night Football. They fell behind the Packers 21-3 heading into halftime, but came back to make it a game before ultimately losing 24-16. A Teddy Bridgewater touchdown run in the third quarter made it a 21-10 game before a Joey Slye field goal got it to 21-13 with 8:39 left in the fourth, but Carolina couldn’t complete its comeback. After Slye connected on a field goal to close the game to eight again with 2:04 to go in the fourth, the Panthers did get the ball back, but they couldn’t move it. They failed to pick up a first down, giving the Packers their 11th win of the season. It wasn’t a bad night overall for Carolina, as it outgained Green Bay by a pretty hefty margin of 364-291 and held Aaron Rodgers to just 143 yards and a touchdown. But a 1-for-5 mark in the red zone proved costly.
Bridgewater totaled 258 passing yards on 21-of-35 passing while adding 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but the absence of Christian McCaffrey continued to loom large. The offense hasn’t been the same without him, despite the admirable job Mike Davis has done in his place. DJ Moore had a strong day against the Packers, though, catching six of his eight targets for 131 yards. Defensively, Brian Burns and Derrick Brown stood out, with both sacking Rodgers twice.
Up Next: at Washington Football Team (6-8)