After losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Buccaneers finally had their bye week in Week 13, giving them a chance to reset before they head into the final four games of their season.
Tampa Bay, at 7-5, currently holds the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff race. The last quarter of the season should set up favorably for Bruce Arians’ team, with games against Minnesota (6-6), Atlanta (4-8), Detroit (5-7) and Atlanta. The biggest game for the Bucs lies just ahead in Week 14 when they host the Vikings, who are sitting right behind them with the No. 7 seed through 13 weeks. The NFC South title is out of the picture for Tom Brady and co., but a strong finish to the year could be just what is needed if a deep playoff run is in the cards.
Before we turn the page to Week 14, though, it’s time to check in on what unfolded in the division during the first weekend of December.
New Orleans Saints (10-2)
The Saints won their ninth straight game on Sunday, beating the Falcons for the second time in three weeks. This time around, it was a 21-16 win that, combined with Chicago’s loss to Detroit, helped New Orleans clinch a playoff berth. The defense once again carried Sean Payton’s team, who continued to be without Drew Brees. Taysom Hill started in Brees’ place again and threw two first-half touchdown passes to help get the Saints to halftime with a 14-9 lead. An Alvin Kamara touchdown run extended that lead to 21-9, but New Orleans didn’t score after the 9:01 mark in the third quarter. It didn’t have to, though, with the defense doing enough to keep Atlanta down. A Matt Ryan-to-Russell Gage touchdown with 7:43 left in the game gave the Falcons a chance, but the last-second Hail Mary attempt from Ryan fell to the ground to give the Saints another win.
Hill completed 27 of his 37 pass attempts in the game for 232 yards and two touchdowns, plus he continued to get it done on the ground, rushing 14 times for 83 yards. Kamara was his usual dangerous self, running 15 times for 88 yards and a touchdown. Michael Thomas continued to start looking more like himself in this one, too, catching nine passes for 105 yards. However, it was Tre’Quan Smith and Jared Cook who caught Hill’s touchdowns. Defensively, the Saints were led by Demario Davis, who tallied nine tackles (five solo), with two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. New Orleans outgained Atlanta 424-332 and held the home team’s offense to a 1-of-4 mark in the red zone. Ten penalties for 79 yards for the Saints helped the Falcons stay in the game, but it wasn’t enough to break the winning streak of the division leaders.
Up Next: at Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1)
Atlanta Falcons (4-8)
After their 43-point output against the Raiders last week, the Falcons failed to keep their momentum going, falling 21-16 at the hands of the Saints in Atlanta. The offense simply couldn’t do enough despite the defense giving it plenty of room to get back in the game after an early deficit. The Falcons went down 14-9 at halftime and then 21-9 early in the third quarter, but the defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way. Matt Ryan tried to engineer a late comeback, first hitting Russell Gage for a 10-yard touchdown with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter before a last-second Hail Mary attempt fell incomplete. Atlanta’s 1-of-4 day in the red zone was a huge disappointment in what was a five-point game. Plus, the loss meant getting swept by the Saints and dropping to 4-8.
Ryan finished the afternoon just 19-of-39 for 273 yards and a touchdown, finding Calvin Ridley (five catches, 108 yards) most often. Julio Jones caught six passes of his own for 94 yards, but the Falcons couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Ito Smith was the team’s leading rusher, going for 36 yards on eight carries. Brian Hill ran five times for 18 yards, while Todd Gurley ran for just 16 yards on eight carries. Steven Means came up with two sacks for the Atlanta defense, but it was Younghoe Koo who was the team’s standout once again. He connected on field goals from 53, 30 and 28 yards out.
Up Next: at Los Angeles Chargers (3-9)
Carolina Panthers (4-8)
The Panthers, like the Bucs, were off this week. They have four games to get out of the NFC South basement.
Up Next: vs. Denver Broncos (4-8)