Over the years, the Buccaneers have gotten used to being the NFC South’s lone losers in a given week, but being the lone winners? That doesn’t happen all that often, does it? Well, it happened this week, with Tampa Bay having a triumphant return to Raymond James Stadium, earning a 31-17 victory over Carolina to pull its record even to 1-1. It was still far from an ideal performance for the Bucs, as they once led 21-0 and eventually needed to make some big plays just to hang on. But the thing was, they did manage to close the game out. That was pretty different.
Today, as we do every Wednesday, we’ll dive into what went down around the NFC South in Week 2. Of course, I’ve already gone and spoiled the results for the other three teams in the intro, haven’t I? Ah, well. Let’s take a look at how those losses came about for the rest of Tampa Bay’s divisional foes, shall we?
New Orleans Saints (1-1)
After their season-opening win over the Bucs, the Saints hit the road for a Monday Night Football matchup against the Raiders. Helping open Las Vegas’ new stadium, New Orleans looked good early, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But the home team bounced back from there, outscoring the Saints 17-7 in the second quarter to head into the locker room with the game tied. Then, the second half went to the Raiders, who scored two touchdowns to make it 31-17 before the Drew Brees and company got back within seven. The comeback wasn’t to be, though, with a late field goal helping Jon Gruden’s team to a 34-24 victory. Unlike in their Week 1 game, the Saints actually outgained their opposition this week, 424-375, but still fell short.
Brees’ statistics didn’t turn out all that bad on the night, as he was 26-of-38 for 312 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a game he was playing without his No. 1 receiver, Michael Thomas. But despite the decent stat line, a lot has been made about the 41-year-old’s inability to throw the intermediate-to-deep passes, as he was ineffective on those throws against Vegas. Many were quick to point out his decline on Monday night, though Brees insisted the offense hasn’t peaked just yet. Of course, the Saints still put up 424 yards and 24 points without their best receiver, so perhaps some judgement needs to be reserved for now. Without Thomas, it was Alvin Kamara stepping up as the top guy on New Orleans’ offense. He ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while adding 95 receiving yards on nine catches. Penalties were a huge issue for the Saints in the game, as they were flagged 10 times for 129 yards.
Up Next: vs. Green Bay Packers (2-0) — Sunday Night Football
Atlanta Falcons (0-2)
Following a loss to the Seahawks in Week 1, the Falcons looked like they were bouncing back nicely on Sunday in Dallas. They led the Cowboys 20-0 after one quarter and 29-10 at halftime, but then things went SOUTH. Dallas went on a 14-0 run in the third quarter to cut it to 29-24, and while Atlanta went on a run of its own to make it 39-24, the game still wasn’t over. The Cowboys got it to 39-30 with 4:57 to go, then scored again to make it 39-37 with 1:49 left. Needing the onside kick to stay alive, Greg Zuerlein delivered. Atlanta somehow didn’t recover, giving the home team an extra shot. A 24-yard pass from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb then set up a game-winning 46-yard field by Zuerlein. It was the Falcons’ worst collapse since the 28-3 debacle in Super Bowl LI.
Matt Ryan had another very good day for the Falcons, completing 24 of his 36 pass attempts for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Calvin Ridley was once again the team’s leading receiver, hauling in seven passes for 109 yards and two scores, while Hayden Hurst caught five passes of his own for 72 yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones, however, was a non-factor, catching two passes for just 24 yards. The Atlanta defense had no answer for Prescott, who threw for 450 yards and a touchdown while adding three scores on the ground.
Up Next: vs. Chicago Bears (2-0)
Carolina Panthers (0-2)
Given the offseason of transition, 2020 was always bound to be a difficult year for the Panthers. But to their credit, they’ve been impressively competitive in both of their games so far this year. After a four-point loss to the Raiders in Week 1, they hung around with the Bucs on Sunday, despite falling behind 21-0 in the first half. Two Christian McCaffrey touchdown runs got Carolina within 21-14, with the second coming early in the fourth quarter. However, the Panthers couldn’t quite come all the way back, with a costly turnover and a failed onside kick giving the Bucs a chance to put the game away. Leonard Fournette’s 46-yard touchdown run was the dagger in a 31-17 loss for Matt Rhule’s team.
McCaffrey was largely held in check by his standards, though he still totaled 88 yards on 22 touches and scored twice. He picked up an injury late in the game, which certainly hurt Carolina’s comeback chances. Teddy Bridgewater uncharacteristically turned the ball over three times, though he did throw for 367 yards. Both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson went over 100 receiving yards, but it was the turnovers and slow start that ultimately plagued the Panthers as they dropped to 0-2 on the year.
Up Next: at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)