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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Buccaneers vs. Saints recap: Different, but same in 34-23 loss to New Orleans

The new-look Bucs ran into some of the same issues that have plagued them for years.

The Buccaneers have “won” offseasons in the past, only to fall short of expectations on the field in the fall. It’s gotten to a point where Tampa Bay fans almost have to be cynical and cautious whenever a new season comes around, because it’s the hype that will hurt you.

Well, it’s been hard for Buccaneer fans to temper expectations after this offseason, given the signing of Tom Brady, the trade for Rob Gronkowski and the summer additions of LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. Not to mention, all of those guys were added to a roster that was already littered with talent. So, yeah... There has not only been “they’re playoff favorites” talk and “they can win the NFC South” chatter... There’s been legitimate Super Bowl hype. **takes a deep breath**

But the offseason talk is officially over, and despite the uncertainty about playing football amid a pandemic, the Bucs got their season underway on Sunday afternoon, taking on the division rival New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans came in as 3.5-point favorites and was given a 59.1% chance to win by ESPN’s FPI.

The Bucs went up 7-0 early and looked good doing so, but old problems quickly resurfaced and put them in a 24-7 hole. They came back within 24-17 in the third quarter thanks in large part to some fantastic stops by the defense, but the Saints ultimately regained control to win 34-23, sending Tampa Bay to 0-1. Overall, the new-look Bucs fell victim to more of the same problems that have plagued them for years.

Game Recap

The Bucs won the toss and deferred to the second half, giving their defense the first snaps of the new season. The Saints picked up a first down on their first play from scrimmage, with Brees finding Taysom Hill for 15 yards. But Todd Bowles’ unit stood tall from there, with Sean Murphy-Bunting coming up to make a couple of key tackles to force a punt.

After Jaydon Mickens called for a fair catch on the New Orleans punt, Brady and the Buccaneer offense started their first drive at their own 15-yard line. Ronald Jones II got the first carry, taking it four yards to set up a 2nd & 6. After a defensive pass interference call on the next play, Brady unloaded a 29-yard pass to Chris Godwin, getting Tampa Bay into New Orleans territory. A short time later, the Bucs faced a 3rd & 2 and Mike Evans, playing despite having a questionable hamstring, drew a pass interference call on Marshon Lattimore. First down, Tampa Bay at the Saints’ 16.

A couple of short runs by Jones with a screen to Scotty Miller mixed in got the Bucs another first down, then Brady sneaked for a two-yard rushing touchdown a couple plays later. After the GOAT’s first touchdown as a Buc, Ryan Succop connected on the PAT for an early 7-0 lead after a nine-play, 85-yard drive that lasted 4:53.

The Saints picked up another quick first down on their second drive before the Bucs once again stepped up, with Murphy-Bunting continuing his strong start by picking up another third-down stop.

Tampa Bay started its second drive at its own 12, but there wasn’t much going this time around despite a Brady-to-Miller connection for eight yards on 3rd & 9. Bradley Pinion’s first punt of the year went for 43 yards, setting New Orleans up at its own 36 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

On the first play of the Saints’ third drive, Michael Thomas came up with his first catch of the game on his first target, picking up four yards. But Tampa Bay’s quick defense continued to swarm, with Devin White picking up a tackle for loss on 2nd & 6. Unfortunately for the Bucs, though, you can only keep the Saints from making big plays for so long. Brees connected with Jared Cook for 18 yards to get across midfield for the first time in the game. Jamel Dean nearly came up with an interception but he juuuust missed it, leading to a big play. Rakeem Nunez-Roches went down on the following play, but he seemed to be okay as he walked off the field. That brought us to the end of the first quarter, with the Bucs on top 7-0.

The Saints started the second quarter hot, with Hill scrambling for 13 yards before Latavius Murray picked up another eight to the Tampa Bay 22. The Bucs did force a 3rd & 3 a few plays later, but Brees and Cook linked up again for a first down to the 12-yard line. Then, after once again forcing a third down, the defense couldn’t get off the field, at least not without giving up a touchdown. Brees found Alvin Kamara out of the backfield for a 12-yard score, with Wil Lutz’s PAT tying the game at 7-7.

The Bucs’ third drive was a downright disaster, with Jones getting stopped for a short gain before a miscommunication between Brady and Evans led to an interception for Marcus Williams. First down New Orleans at the Tampa Bay 35.

The Bucs almost came up with an instant three-and-out, but a 33-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Jordan Whitehead gift wrapped a touchdown for the Saints. With Lutz’s PAT, the Saints suddenly had a 14-7 lead. Turnovers and penalties will kill ya.

Brady and the offense started on their own 25 after another touchback, and No. 12’s first pass after the interception was a six-yard completion to Justin Watson. After Jones picked up three yards on 2nd & 4, he fought forward for a first down to the 33 with Cameron Brate leading the way as a blocker. A couple more runs by Jones and a Brady pass to Godwin got Tampa Bay across midfield before Rob Gronkowski came up with his first catch as a Buc, a two-yard pickup on first down.

Leonard Fournette’s first carry with Tampa Bay ended in a scuffle, with Lattimore giving Evans a late shove before Evans turned around and gave it right back to him. The refs got the instigator, giving the Bucs a first down at the Saints’ 27. Tampa Bay couldn’t take advantage, with Fournette losing yards before an incompletion and a sack led to a long field goal attempt. Aaaaaand his 54-yard attempt was blocked. Because despite a lot changing for the Bucs this offseason, their question marks on special teams sure stayed the same.

Starting at their own 45, the Saints went just about nowhere. A short run by Murray and a four-yard pass to Tre’Quan Smith on third down set up a 4th & 2 near midfield. But before Sean Payton made his call for fourth down, his team let the clock run down to the two-minute warning.

Coming out of the two-minute warning, New Orleans went with a hard count and Vita Vea bit. First down Saints. On the next play, Deonte Harris took a screen from Brees and went 17 yards to the Tampa Bay 25. Ndamukong Suh was called for a neutral zone infraction to move the ball up to the 20 before a first-down catch by Thomas at the 12. Brees threw incomplete on two straight plays after that, with the second getting blown up by Shaquil Barrett, who notched the breakup behind the line of scrimmage. On 3rd & 10, Brees couldn’t find anyone open, so he scrambled for a yard to set up a 29-yard field goal by Lutz. That gave the Saints a 17-7 lead with 0:44 left in the first half.

Running the two-minute offense, Brady quickly found Miller for a 10-yard gain. But the drive stalled right after, with Donovan Smith whiffing on a block and setting Brady up for failure. He ended up taking an intentional grounding call and got rocked pretty hard, which is a sight that no one on the Tampa Bay sideline could’ve been happy with. Brady found Godwin on a short screen on 2nd & 20, but an incomplete pass on 3rd & 14 led to a punt. The New Orleans defender got to Godwin a bit early, but despite pleading from the Bucs, there was no call.

New Orleans didn’t try anything with nine seconds left in the half, instead opting to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room.

The Bucs started the second half from their own 25 and continued to hurt themselves, with a penalty bringing back a nice screen play to Jones. A screen to Fournette gained a first down, but the same ol’ Bucs came right back. A false start on Smith preceded a pick six that gave the Saints a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.

On the first play of Tampa Bay’s next drive, Brady threw deep for Evans, who drew another pass interference call. That set the Bucs up at the Saints’ 30, then Jones took one 21 yards to the 9-yard line. One play later, end zone. Brady found O.J. Howard for a nine-yard score to bring the Bucs back within 10 points. It was a well-executed fake to Jones and Howard found himself wide open.

The Buccaneer defense did its best to keep things where they were, fighting through a Carlton Davis pass interference penalty to get a big stop. Jason Pierre-Paul came through untouched on a 3rd & 6 to pick up his first sack of the year, forcing a New Orleans punt.

Starting from their 14, the Bucs picked up a quick first down, with Brady once again finding Miller for a gain of 12. The penalties kept coming for Tampa Bay, though, with the rookie Tristan Wirfs jumping early. That killed the drive, with two incompletions leading to a Pinion punt. It was a bad one, too, as it went for just 37 yards and Harris returned it 15 yards to the Tampa Bay 45.

With great field position, the Saints went nowhere. Lavonte David was the star of the drive, getting in on two tackles in the backfield—one with Jordan Whitehead and the other with White—before pressuring Brees into an incompletion on third down. That gave the Buccaneer offense yet another chance to close the gap.

Tampa Bay found a bit of a rhythm early on its next drive, with Brady finding Gronkowski for nine, Godwin for 23 and Miller for six to get near midfield. Brady then looked for Miller deep, and New Orleans was called for another pass interference, giving the Bucs a first down in plus territory at the 23. Back-to-back carries for Fournette generated just three yards, then a throwaway led to another field goal attempt. This one, from 38 yards, was dead-on from Succop. That brought the Bucs within 24-17 late in the third quarter.

The Tampa Bay defense continued its impressive third quarter on the very next drive, quickly getting New Orleans to third down before David once again broke through for a huge tackle for loss to set up another punt.

After the punt, Jones picked up six on first down to bring us to the end of the third quarter.

The offense couldn’t complement the defense’s outstanding effort at the start of the fourth quarter, with a Brady incompletion coming before a third-down sack.

The Saints offense finally came back to life on the next drive, with Brees finding Cook for 46 yards. Jamel Dean was poor in coverage, and it set New Orleans up at the Tampa Bay 15. The defense couldn’t quite step up from there, allowing a conversion on 3rd & 6 before a Brees touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders. The Lutz PAT extended the New Orleans lead to 31-17 with 11:38 to go in the fourth quarter.

Thanks to a Davis facemask on the touchdown, the Saints were in an advantageous position on the ensuing kickoff. That led to a short kick and a miscommunication between Mickens and Mike Edwards. The fumble was recovered by New Orleans, and the wheels had officially fallen off for the Bucs.

The defense came up with a stop in the red zone, but a 21-yard field goal by Lutz made it a three-possession game with only 8:01 to go. The Bucs didn’t do anything to get themselves back in it, with three incompletions leading to another punt. New Orleans responded with a three-and-out of its own, giving the ball right back to Tampa Bay.

The Bucs, playing for confidence more than anything else, put together a nice possession as the clock continued to tick. Brady found Howard twice and Godwin once before hitting Miller for 37 yards to get into the red zone. Smith was beaten yet again a couple plays later, leading to a Brady fumble (that he managed to recover). On 4th & 7, Brady found Godwin for a first down, and the Bucs got some extra yards thanks to a personal foul on D.J. Swearinger. On the next play, Brady finally connected with Evans for the first time, bringing the Bucs within 34-23—and it stayed there, as their two-point conversion attempt failed.

The onside kick attempt for Tampa Bay failed, giving New Orleans the ball back with little time left. And just to rub some salt in the wound, Sean Payton was Sean Payton, calling a double pass that got the Saints down to the Bucs’ 9. The clock ran down from there, then the Saints went ahead and went for it on 4th & Goal with under 30 seconds left. Why? Because Sean Payton. Kamara appeared to find the end zone again, but replay showed he stepped out just before crossing the goal line. The Bucs ran one more play, but that was the end of it.

Quick Notes & Stats

  • Before the final drive of the first half, the Bucs had thrown the ball just eight times. They instead focused on the run, with 16 rushes going for just 36 yards. Whether that was the game plan or not, it wasn’t working well for Tampa Bay. After falling into a hole in the second half, the passing game became the priority.
  • Tom Brady’s Buccaneer debut was a mixed bag. His offensive line let him down, plus the whole offense seemed like it just couldn’t find its groove. Overall, the GOAT completed 23 of his 36 attempts for 239 yards and two touchdowns (plus a rushing touchdown), but he also threw two picks.
  • Ronald Jones II was the primary ball carrier for the Bucs on Sunday, totaling 66 yards on 17 carries. Leonard Fournette had just five carries, picking up five yards.
  • Mike Evans, who was questionable prior to the game due to a hamstring injury, was held without a catch in the first half. His lone reception came late, as he hauled in a two-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
  • Chris Godwin was the Bucs’ leading receiver, catching six passes for 79 yards. Scotty Miller stepped up, bringing in five passes for 73 yards, while O.J. Howard totaled 36 yards on four catches.
  • Lavonte David was the team’s leading tackler, picking up 11 (seven solo), with two going for a loss. Devin White also had 11 tackles (six solo), with one going for a loss.
  • William Gholston also had two tackles for loss, while Jason Pierre-Paul came up with his first sack of the season.
  • New Orleans outgained Tampa Bay 138-107 in the first half, but it was the Bucs outgaining the Saints by the end (310-271).
  • Penalties killed Tampa Bay, as it was flagged nine times for 103 yards. To be fair, they were a problem for the Saints too, to the tune of six for 119.
  • The turnover margin for the Bucs was -3. That won’t cut it.

The Buccaneers (0-1) will return home next Sunday for a 1:00 p.m. matchup with the Panthers (0-1).

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