When the Buccaneers took the field at the Superdome on Sunday afternoon for a matchup against the division rival Saints, it was—in some ways—the present vs. the past. Tom Brady, in his second season as Tampa Bay’s quarterback, was set to face his predecessor, Jameis Winston, who started under center for the Bucs from 2015-2019.
Last year, Winston made a couple of cameos against the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2015. He relieved Drew Brees in mop-up duty when New Orleans blew out Tampa Bay last November and then popped up again for a touchdown pass on a trick play when the Saints fell short against the Bucs in the NFC Divisional Round. But this time around, in Week 8 of the 2021 season, Winston was the starter against his former squad. With Brees heading into retirement after last season, it was now Winston’s Saints going up against Brady’s Bucs.
Renewing this NFC South rivalry with Winston at the center of it may have been much of the story coming into Sunday’s game, but there was plenty else to consider. Of course, New Orleans has won the division four years in a row and Tampa Bay, with a win, could gain some valuable separation in the race for this year’s NFC South crown. In some ways, the Bucs’ playoff win in the Superdome back in January can be looked at as a warning shot. Not only did the Bucs deny Brees a chance to go out on top, but they of course went on to win the Super Bowl themselves. And now, after a 6-1 start, they’re very much looked at as the top dogs in the NFC South. But in starting the regular season series on Sunday, they needed to prove it on the field, head-to-head.
Helping Tampa Bay’s case was the fact that Rob Gronkowski and Lavonte David were all able to suit up and play in the game. The Bucs were narrow four-point favorites on the road, with ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor giving them a 64.1% chance to come away with a win before their Week 9 bye.
The Brady vs. Winston storyline didn’t last long in this one, with the latter leaving the game in the first half with a knee injury. Instead, the story of the game became the return of Bucs beating Bucs. The defense couldn’t contain Trevor Siemian, the offense turned the ball over three times and the team as a whole was penalized 11 times for 99 yards. After falling behind 23-7 in the third quarter, Tampa Bay stormed back to eventually take a 27-26 lead with 5:44 to go. But a costly third-down holding call on Ross Cockrell on the Saints’ ensuing drive kept things going. A 23-yard field goal gave New Orleans a 29-27 lead and then, when the Bucs still had a chance, Brady threw a pick six that was the exclamation point on a disappointing day for the Bucs, who fell to 6-2 with a 36-27 loss.
The Saints won the coin toss and elected to defer, giving the ball to Tom Brady and the Buccaneer offense first. After a touchback set them up at the 25-yard line, the Bucs quickly went three-and-out. Leonard Fournette lost a yard on first down and Brady found Tyler Johnson for eight yards to set up 3rd & 3 on second down, then Chris Godwin dropped a third-down screen to bring Bradley Pinion out for the first time. He dropped a 54-yarder to the 14, which is where Jameis Winston and the New Orleans offense would start their first possession.
Winston hit Alvin Kamara for a six-yard gain on first down before nearly throwing an interception to Jamel Dean to bring up a 3rd & 4. A false start pushed it back to a 3rd & 9 before Winston converted it himself, scrambling up the middle for a 20-yard pickup. An incomplete pass on the next play and a short pass to Garrett Griffin brought up another third down. This time, Winston threw to Marquez Callaway for five yards, though that put the ball just short of the marker. Sean Payton elected to gamble and go for it on fourth down, but Kamara got absolutely nowhere, with Lavonte David and a host of defenders coming up big to make the stop.
Going from the Saints’ 44-yard line after the turnover on downs, Tampa Bay’s offense took advantage of the short field just like it did many times against Chicago last week. Facing a 3rd & 6 early in the drive, Brady converted with a 25-yard pass to Godwin down to the 15. After a holding penalty on Donovan Smith set things back, the Bucs faced another critical 3rd & 7 from the 12-yard line. Brady calmly found Godwin again, and the receiver bounced off a few defenders into the end zone for a touchdown. With Ryan Succop’s PAT, the visitors had a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Jason Pierre-Paul knocked down a Winston pass on first down to start the Saints’ next drive, but Kamara ran for a first down on the next play. Mark Ingram then made his first impact on the game, catching passes for 18 and seven yards. The Buccaneer defense forced a 3rd & 2 shortly after that, but Winston scrambled for a first down once again to get the ball down to Tampa Bay’s 35. His legs kept the drive moving again two plays later, running for 13 yards to get inside the red zone. An incomplete pass and a three-yard run by Ingram then brought up another 3rd & 7 from the 16. The Bucs brought a heavy blitz, but Winston beat it and found Tre’Quan Smith for a touchdown. With the PAT, it was a 7-7 game with 2:39 left in the opening quarter.
Starting the next offensive series from its 25, Tampa Bay went to Ronald Jones II on first down for nine yards. Brady then found Mike Evans for the first time on the afternoon, picking up seven yards and a first down. The Bucs then called their first timeout of the first half with 1:19 left in the first quarter. After the timeout, rookie Jaelon Darden took a quick toss for eight yards before Jones lost a yard to bring up 3rd & 3. That brought us to the end of the first quarter with the game tied at 7-7.
Brady opened the second quarter by hitting Johnson for eight yards to move the chains and get the ball across midfield to the Saints’ 44. After Brady overthrew Evans on a deep ball that should’ve ended up as a touchdown, Darden caught a short four-yard pass to bring up 3rd & 6. Brady threw short of Cameron Brate on third down, though, so Pinion came on for a punt. He delivered a nice 32-yarder to the 8-yard line, which is where New Orleans would begin its next possession.
Kamara picked up just one yard on the opening play of the Saints’ drive, with Pierre Desir coming up with a nice tackle. Shaquil Barrett barely missed a sack on second down, as Winston escaped and scrambled before being dragged down by the back of the jersey by Devin White. It was—somehow—called a horse-collar tackle, giving the Saints a first down. But Winston went down awkwardly and had to be helped off the field, which brought backup quarterback Trevor Siemian into the game. His first pass was broken up by Antoine Winfield Jr., then he hit Adam Trautman for five yards before a third-down incompletion forced a punt.
After no return and a holding penalty on the punt, the Bucs started their next drive from the 13. Fournette got nothing on first down, but Brady and Godwin connected for 20 yards on the next play for a fresh set of downs. The drive nearly stalled there with another run for no gain by Fournette and an incomplete pass, but Brady looked Johnson’s way again on third down and hit him for a gain of 31 yards to the New Orleans 35-yard line. Brady and O.J. Howard then linked up for a four-yard pickup, but two plays later, the Saints got to Brady for a sack-fumble. After the recovery, the Saints took over at their own 38.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches stopped Kamara for a loss of one to start the next drive, but Siemian found Deonte Harris for a 14-yard gain on the next play go get the ball to midfield. Griffin then caught a 12-yard pass to get inside Tampa Bay territory and, two plays later, he caught a 14-yarder to the 24-yard line with just under five minutes left in the second quarter. After a false start and a three-yard run by Ingram, Devin White was called for a very questionable roughing the passer penalty that gave the Saints a first down. Antoine Winfield Jr. then intercepted Siemian in the end zone, but another brutal roughing the passer call on William Gholston—who had his helmet ripped off—negated it. Given a first down at the 7, the Saints couldn’t cash in with a touchdown. Instead, a Brian Johnson field goal made it a 10-7 New Orleans lead with 2:20 left in the first half.
Tampa Bay opened the next drive with Giovani Bernard breaking free for a 24-yard run to the 49-yard line. That brought us to the two-minute warning with the Saints up by three. After the break, Brady threw into traffic and was intercepted by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. A 25-yard return set the New Orleans offense up at Tampa Bay’s 35.
Ingram picked up 11 yards on first down and Siemian found Smith for 15 more to get inside the 10 with 1:02 left in the half. Kamara then got seven yards, which set up a one-yard touchdown pass from Siemian to Alex Armah. A missed PAT kept it at a 16-7 lead, but New Orleans did what it needed to do, giving itself a chance to double up to start the second half.
Tampa Bay’s offense didn’t attempt anything with 27 seconds left in the half, which meant the Saints would take a 16-7 lead into the locker room with the potential to widen the gap in the third quarter, as they were set to get the ball.
After Harris failed to get to the 25-yard line on the opening kickoff of the second half, Siemian and the offense went to work from the 24. On the first play of the drive, Kevin White beat Pierre Desir for a 38-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 38. But after short runs by Kamara and Siemian, a third-down pass to Kamara came up short of the first-down marker. The Saints elected to go for it on 4th & 4 at the Bucs’ 32 and the decision paid off, with Siemian finding Harris for seven yards and a first down. Kamara then ran for 15 yards to the Tampa Bay 10. The defense continued to make error after error from there, with Anthony Nelson jumping offsides on 2nd & Goal before failing to contain on 4th & Goal from the 1, allowing Kamara to score and extend the Saints’ lead to 23-7 with 9:01 left in the third quarter.
Trailing 23-7, the Bucs desperately needed points on their first drive of the third quarter. A nine-yard pass to Cameron Brate and a two-yard sneak by Brady got the chains moving, then Brady found Fournette for seven yards to the 43. Godwin then came through with yet another big gain, catching a slant and breaking a tackle before taking it 44 yards down to the New Orleans 13-yard line. It was nearly a disaster for the Bucs on the next play, as Fournette appeared to catch a pass before fumbling it into the end zone, where it was recovered by the Saints. After a review, it was determined that Fournette never had possession of the ball, which meant the Bucs retained possession. A few plays later, Brady hit Bernard for a seven-yard touchdown. Succop then converted the PAT, cutting the deficit to 23-14 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
Harris returned the ensuing kickoff to the 28, but Ndamukong Suh dropped Siemian for a sack and a loss of six yards on first down before Pierre-Paul knocked down a pass in the backfield to force a 3rd & 16. Pressure got to the quarterback again on third down, which forced an incompletion and a punt on the next play. After a 50-yarder was returned for three yards by Darden, the Buccaneer offense took over from its own 31.
Ronald Jones II picked up five yards on the ground to start Tampa Bay’s next drive, then Brady and Godwin connected for a 16-yard gain to midfield. Jones then caught a six-yard pass to get inside New Orleans territory, but he was then called for a false start to back things up to a 2nd & 9. Another quick six-yard catch by Godwin shortened it to a 3rd & 3 before the Bucs struck again. Brady found Evans, who was interfered with by Marshon Lattimore, deep for a 41-yard touchdown. The PAT made it 23-21 with 1:15 left in the third quarter. Just like that, it was a game again.
Tampa Bay’s defense continued to stand tall on the next New Orleans possession, forcing a three-and-out in less than a minute to get the ball back to Brady and the offense with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a trick play resulted in an incomplete pass by Fournette, Brady found Godwin for a nine-yard gain to bring up a 3rd & 1. But before the third-down attempt, we reached the end of the third quarter with the Saints clinging to a 23-21 lead.
Fournette picked up the third-down conversion with a six-yard run, but we then had another timeout as Donovan Smith went down before walking off the field under his own power. On the next play, Ryan Jensen was called for a hold, pushing the offense back to a 1st & 20 at its own 24. Smith then came back in after missing one play, and Brady hit Johnson for a seven-yard gain before Darden was dropped for a loss after a catch on a screen. On 3rd & 14, Godwin caught a nine-yard screen, only to end up short of the sticks. Pinion came on to punt it away and after a 12-yard return, the Saints took over at their own 34.
Two short runs by Kamara set New Orleans up with a 3rd & 5 at the 39, but the Bucs shot themselves in the foot for the millionth time in the game as Pierre-Paul was called for a neutral-zone infraction to give the Saints a first down. Devin White was then called for taunting on the next play, moving the ball to Tampa Bay’s 35. Siemian then found Harris for a 14-yard gain to the 21. But the Buccaneer defense got off the field after that, forcing a 35-yard field goal try. Johnson nailed it, but it was still a one-score game as the Saints led 26-21 with 8:31 left.
A two-yard catch by Fournette and a 12-yard reception by Howard got the Bucs across the 35 to the 39, then Fournette picked up three yards on a run and eight yards on a catch to get the ball to the 50. From there, an unlikely hero emerged. Cyril Grayson Jr. got wiiiiiiide open and hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Brady. The two-point conversion try failed, though, so the Bucs had a 27-26 lead with 5:44 to go.
Going from their 25-yard line, the Saints didn’t get much on first down. Ingram got a yard, after being tripped up by Jordan Whitehead, then Siemian threw a five-yard pass to Kamara to bring up a 3rd & 4. New Orleans converted with a nine-yard pass to Callaway, getting to the 40 with under four minutes left. Harris then took a reverse end-around for 22 yards to Tampa Bay’s 38, getting the Saints just outside of field goal range with about three minutes to play. A four-yard pass to Ty Montgomery and a one-yard run by Kamara brought up a 3rd & 5 at the 33 with 2:46 to go. Heavy pressure forced an incompletion on third down, but Ross Cockrell was called for holding in the secondary to give the Saints a fresh set of downs.
With a first down at the 28, Ingram ran for three yards and Tampa Bay called its first timeout. The Saints had no interest in settling for a field goal, though, as Siemian threw a 16-yard pass to Callaway to bring us to the two-minute warning.
After the break, Siemian threw two straight incomplete passes, seemingly helping the Bucs as the clock stopped after both plays without them having to use a timeout. A pass to Kamara on third down brought up 4th & Goal, which prompted the Bucs’ second timeout. The 23-yard field goal by Johnson made it a 29-27 Saints lead with 1:41 to go.
Going from the 25, Brady threw incomplete deep to Evans on first down. And on the next play, the Bucs’ disaster of a day came to a pretty fitting end as P.J. Williams intercepted Brady and returned it 40 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. 36-27.
Brady was sacked twice on the ensuing possession just to make matters worse. That was the end of it for Tampa Bay, which dropped to 6-2 on the year with its 36-27 loss.
Quick Notes & Stats
- The Saints went on a 9-0 run after Jameis Winston exited with a knee injury in the second quarter, taking advantage of two Buccaneer turnovers to take a 16-7 lead into the locker room. They then doubled up to open the third quarter, getting out to a 23-7 lead.
- Tampa Bay was flagged 11 times for 99 yards, while New Orleans was only penalized twice for 10 yards.
- The Bucs lost the turnover battle 3-0, directly leading to the loss.
- Tom Brady threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-40 passing, but he also was responsible for all three of Tampa Bay’s turnovers.
- Chris Godwin kept the Buccaneer offense going all day, catching eight passes for 140 yards and a touchdown.
- Tyler Johnson stepped up in the absence of Antonio Brown, catching five passes for 65 yards.
- Cyril Grayson Jr. caught his first career touchdown in his home state, bringing in a 50-yarder from Brady to give the Bucs their final lead of the game.
- Mike Evans was quiet for much of the game, but he beat Marshon Lattimore for a 41-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
- Ndamukong Suh registered Tampa Bay’s only sack of the game.
- Before his injury, Jameis Winston was 6-of-10 for 56 yards and a touchdown, plus he ran for 40 yards on four carries.
- In relief of Winston, Siemian threw for 159 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-29 passing.
The Buccaneers (6-2) will now hit their bye week at a good time before returning to the field on Nov. 14, traveling to the nation’s capital for a matchup against the Washington Football Team. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.