With a chance to extend their home winning streak to 10 games and clinch the NFC South for the first time since 2007, the Buccaneers (10-3) hosted the division rival Saints (6-7) on Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium.
There’s no denying that New Orleans has dominated Tampa Bay in regular season play over the last several years, having won the last six meetings. The Bucs did send the Saints home in the NFC Divisional Round back in January, getting the last laugh on the way to their second-ever Lombardi Trophy. Nonetheless, there was undoubtedly an extra bit of incentive in the Buccaneer locker room to wrap up the division on Sunday by vanquishing the NFC South champs of the last four seasons.
When the two teams met at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday Night Football last November, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons—at least from Tampa Bay’s perspective. New Orleans dominated the night from start to finish, winning 38-3. Again, the NFC Divisional Round was a good bit of revenge for the Bucs, but Sunday night was a chance for a little more.
Despite still dealing with a number of injuries, Tampa Bay entered as 11-point favorites over New Orleans. ESPN’s FPI Matchup Predictor gave the home team a 75.7% chance to get to 11-3 and win the NFC South for the fourth time in franchise history.
If last year’s 38-3 loss to the Saints on Sunday Night Football wasn’t embarrassing enough for the Bucs, they were equally as poor—if not worse—this time around, getting shut out in a 9-0 loss to drop to 10-4 on the season. New Orleans once again finished a regular season sweep of Tampa Bay, meaning the defending Super Bowl champions would have to wait until after Christmas for another chance to win the division.
The Buccaneers won the coin toss and elected to defer, which meant Taysom Hill and the New Orleans offense would get things started at their own 25-yard line after a Bradley Pinion touchback. Hill found Marquez Callaway for eight yards on the game’s first play before Alvin Kamara got his first carry of the night and took it for nine yards and a first down. Shaquil Barrett forced Hill into a throwaway on the next play, then Lavonte David stopped Kamara for a loss of one to set up a 3rd & 11 at the 40. But before the third-down attempt, the Saints were forced to call their first timeout of the game—less than two minutes in.
The timeout didn’t help matters, as the Tampa Bay defense—namely Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka—pressured Hill into another incompletion. A short return by Jaelon Darden on Blake Gillikin’s punt set the Buccaneer offense up at its own 21 to start drive No. 1.
Leonard Fournette got the offense going early, following a near-interception by catching passes of five and seven yards to move the chains. A seven-yard pass from Tom Brady to Chris Godwin followed, but Fournette then lost two on another reception to bring up 3rd & 5. Brady looked his way again on third down, but the Bucs had to punt after getting just three yards. Pinion’s punt went for 40 yards and there was no return, setting up the Saints’ second drive to begin at the 19-yard line.
Tre’Quan Smith got the next New Orleans possession going with a nine-yard catch, setting Kamara up for a four-yard pickup and a first down on the next play. Devin White dropped Kamara for a loss of three on the next play, but Kamara got seven yards on 2nd & 13 to set up a more manageable third down. Then, Callaway beat Sean Murphy-Bunting and hauled in a 40-yard pass from Hill for a Saints first down at the Bucs’ 24. Kamara got five more yards on the next play, but a host of Bucs tacklers dropped Mark Ingram for a loss on second down to bring up 3rd & 7. Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis were able to team up to force a third-down incompletion, but Brett Maher came on to nail a 39-yard field goal to give New Orleans a 3-0 lead with 5:44 to go in the opening quarter.
Darden only returned the ensuing kickoff to the 17-yard line, so the Bucs had to start their second drive inside their own 20. Brady and Godwin were unable to connect on first down from the 17, but they linked up on the next play for a 23-yard gain to the 40. Another five-yard catch by Godwin and an incomplete pass forced a 3rd & 5 for the Bucs at their own 45, and they were unable to convert as Cameron Jordan beat Donovan Smith to sack Brady for a loss of seven. That brought Pinion out for another punt and the punt coverage team made matters worse, allowing Easop Winston Jr. to return the ball all the way to the 43-yard line. So, after what was a 19-yard net punt, the Saints were back in business, already leading 3-0.
Ingram got close to nothing on the first play of New Orleans’ next drive, but Hill hung in there in the face of pressure from Tryon-Shoyinka on second down to set up a more manageable 3rd & 3 at the 50. He then kept the drive alive, finding Callaway for seven yards and a first down to the 43. A holding penalty on the Saints pushed them behind the sticks and had them facing a 1st & 20 back at their 47, but Hill threw one up to Callaway for another big gain, this time getting 33 yards to the Bucs’ 20. Two straight incompletions—one being a near-interception—eventually brought up 3rd & 10 at the 20 before an eight-yard pass to Smith brought up 4th & 2 at the 12—and the end of the first quarter. After one pretty bad quarter of football, Tampa Bay trailed 3-0.
The Saints began the second quarter by lining up to go for it on 4th & 2, but they only tried to draw the Bucs offsides before taking a delay of game penalty. That meant another Maher field goal—this one from 35 yards out—to extend the visitors’ lead to 6-0.
Starting from their 25 after a touchback, the Brady and the offense needed to sustain something and show some life against the New Orleans defense. A three-yard run by Ronald Jones II and an eight-yard pass to Godwin got the chains moving, but they quickly faced a 3rd & 9 after a drop by Rob Gronkowski and a one-yard screen to Godwin. A five-yard pass over the middle to Godwin wasn’t enough on third down and, even worse, the team’s leading receiver stayed down after a brutal hit. He eventually got up and walked off under his own power before Pinion punted the ball back to the Saints, who had a chance to build on their 6-0 lead.
A 48-yard punt set the Saints up at their own 10 and the Buccaneer defense did well to keep the pressure on, stopping Ingram for a gain of one on first down before Lavonte David sacked Hill for a loss of one. An incomplete pass on 3rd & 10 had New Orleans punting from deep and after Darden’s return, the Bucs were near midfield at their own 43.
Fournette’s first carry of the night went for six yards to open the Tampa Bay drive, then he got another two yards to bring up 3rd & 2 at the Saints’ 49. Brady found Fournette through the air for a short gain on the next play to keep the drive alive before throwing incomplete for Cameron Brate to set up a 2nd & 10 at the 44. He hit Brate for six yards on second down, then Mike Evans made his first impression on the game by catching a 14-yard pass over the middle on 3rd & 4, getting a first down at the New Orleans 24. A three-yard run by Fournette and an incompletion on second down brought up another third down and this time, Brady was sacked by Cameron Jordan for a second time. What looked to potentially be a lead-changing touchdown drive suddenly ended with a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Succop. With 6:21 to go in the first half, the Saints maintained their 6-0 lead.
An nine-yard run by Hill opened the next New Orleans drive before Kamara moved the chains. A two-yard run by Kamara and a three-yard pass to Adam Trautman brought up a crucial 3rd & 5 around midfield, with the Bucs needing a stop to give their offense another chance to score before halftime. They got the stop they needed, with Hill misfiring on third down to bring the punt team out. A short three-yard return on the punt brought the Buccaneer offense out to the 18, where it would begin its next drive without Godwin (knee injury, questionable to return) and Evans (hamstring injury, doubtful to return).
Fournette picked up five yards on first down of the next drive, bringing the clock to just over three minutes remaining in the half. He got another two on second down, setting up a 3rd & 3 with just over two and a half to play. A beauty of a pass from Brady to Gronkowski got a first down to the 44 before run for no gain brought us to the two-minute warning.
On the first play out of the two-minute warning, Brady found Fournette for a six-yard gain to the 50. The 44-year-old signal-caller then came up with a 3rd & 4 conversion by finding Scotty Miller over the middle before Jones got another six yards on the ground as the clock ticked under a minute in the half. An incomplete pass brought up yet another 3rd & 4, and Brady was then sacked for a third time on the night. That killed the drive, bringing Pinion out for another punt and all-but-ensuring that the Bucs would be shut out in the first half.
Pinion dropped a beauty of a punt down to the 1-yard line, pushing New Orleans back to start its drive 38 seconds before halftime. The Saints pushed forward pretty easily on first down, with Hill getting six yards up the middle. Tampa Bay called a timeout in hopes of getting the ball back, but Ingram picked up a first down and brought us to the end of a miserable first half. The Saints took a 6-0 lead to the locker room and the fans inside Raymond James Stadium were unhappy with their team’s performance, to say the least.
Jaelon Darden nearly broke free for a big return to open the second half, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as Kevin Minter was called for holding. For Tampa Bay, that meant starting the third quarter at the 11-yard line, doing so without Godwin and Evans (who were ruled out for the remainder of the game). A six-yard run and an eight-yard catch by Fournette moved the chains to start the possession, then he got another three yards before Brady and Ronald Jones II linked up for a five-yard gain to set up a 3rd & 2. Brady looked deep for Darden on third-and-short—for some reason—and the pass fell incomplete. The ugliness continued from the offense, putting the pressure back on the defense once again.
The Saints started their first offensive series of the second half with much more favorable field position than the Bucs had, setting up a their own 32. Kamara got three yards on first down before Devin White took Hill down for a loss of one on the next play to force a 3rd & 8. The defense continued to do its job, getting off the field thanks to an incomplete pass forced by pressure from Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
Starting its next possession from the 22, the Buccaneer offense got a nice eight-yard run by Fournette to get things going before Jones got nothing on second down to bring up another 3rd & 2. And yet another 3rd & 2 meant yet another 3rd & 2 incompletion, bringing Pinion out for what felt like his 19th punt of the night. Once again, the responsibility was back on the defense to keep the Bucs in the game.
Hill threw behind Callaway to open the Saints’ next drive from the 18, then Jordan Whitehead forced a throwaway on second down to get the offense to 3rd & 10. Hill tried to escape the pocket on third down, but Tryon-Shoyinka brought him down for a sack and a loss of two to force another New Orleans punt.
Tampa Bay’s offense took the field for its next drive without Leonard Fournette, who was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a hamstring injury. Brady and Brate linked up for a gain of 16 to open the next possession, but an incomplete pass and a short run by Jones forced a 3rd & 7. Brady avoided a sack on third down to find Tyler Johnson for five yards, and needing a spark, the offense lined up to attempt a 4th & 2 at the Saints’ 36. The play call was an odd one, with Brady throwing a lob up to Gronkowski down the field. It fell incomplete and, even though there was a New Orleans defender hanging all over the big tight end, there was no flag. Turnover on downs.
Ingram got just three yards on first down to start the next Saints drive, then Hill stood in against pressure to find him for three more yards on second down to set up 3rd & 4. Pierre Desir knocked away a third-down pass, so a quick three-and-out brought the Tampa Bay offense out with another chance to take a lead, still trailing just 6-0 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Jones got the next Tampa Bay possession started with a 12-yard run to the 31, then broke off another one for 30 yards to the New Orleans 39-yard line. Ke’Shawn Vaughn made a rare appearance on the next snap and gained two yards before he dropped a pass on second down to bring up a 3rd & 8. The Bucs converted, with Brady finding Gronkowski for a 10-yard gain to the 27. With a fresh set of downs, Brady looked deep down the sideline for Gronkowski again, but the pass once again fell incomplete. A short two-yard run by Jones brought up another 3rd & 8, this one at the 25. Brady avoided a sack and looked to scramble, but he had the ball knocked loose and New Orleans recovered at the 14, keeping the Tampa Bay offense off the board.
Hill got eight yards on the ground to get the ball moving on the ensuing Saints possession, but a stop of Kamara by Lavonte David forced a 3rd & 2—and the end of the third quarter. Through 45 minutes, Tampa Bay still trailed 6-0.
Andrew Adams stopped Hill on a quarterback keeper to open the fourth quarter, forcing another New Orleans punt. The Bucs got the ball back at their own 32, needing something or anything at all to get something going in their favor offensively.
Jones carried the ball for six yards on first down to open the Bucs first fourth-quarter possession before catching a three-yard pass to bring up 3rd & 1. Instead of trying to sneak it with Brady or giving the ball to Jones again, Tampa Bay went to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who went absolutely nowhere. That was followed by a 30-yard punt by Pinion, which brought a lot of boos out of the home crowd.
Hill threw on the run to Callaway for 17 yards to start the Saints’ next drive, then he got six yards on the ground to keep the clock moving and push the ball into Buccaneer territory. An incomplete pass then brought up another 3rd & 3, but the Saints converted with a short pass to Ingram, who got to the 37. Hill and Callaway connected again for seven yards on the next play, getting the ball down to the 30-yard line. New Orleans moved the chains again on the next play, looking to go up two scores as the clock ticked under nine minutes to go in the game. A tackle for loss by Suh and William Gholston pushed the offense to 2nd & 11, then Andrew Adams dropped an interception on second down. Hill couldn’t get enough on third down, bringing Maher out for a 42-yard field goal attempt. He drilled it, putting the Saints up by two scores with just 7:28 to go.
Absolutely needing some sort of points on their next drive, the Bucs failed miserably. Two incomplete passes and another sack of Brady led to a punt. With 6:35 to go and holding a two-score lead, the Saints just needed to kill some clock.
Intent on giving the offense a chance until the very end, Tampa Bay’s defense forced another three-and-out, getting the ball back with 4:59 to go. But a nice punt by Gillikin meant the offense would have to go from its own 3. Two incomplete passes and a six-yard pass to Johnson set up 4th & 4 at the 9, and the Saints were finally called for holding Gronkowski, extending the drive. After missing a deep shot to Darden, Brady found Johnson, who fought through interference for another first down. Two incomplete passes later, Brady was intercepted by C.J. Gardner-Johnson to put an end to an absolutely disgraceful performance from the Tampa Bay offense.
The Buccaneer defense got yet another stop on the ensuing possession, but a roughing the kicker penalty on the punt kept the ball with the Saints. New Orleans was able to drain some more clock before kicking it away to Tampa Bay with 1:06 to go. By that point, it was much too late anyway. The Bucs simply ran out the clock and resigned themselves to an embarrassing 9-0 loss that kept them from winning the NFC South, at least this week.
Quick Notes & Stats
- Tampa Bay’s offense was a mess during Sunday night’s game. The unit lost Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette fairly early, but it was shocking to see such little success from a Tom Brady-led offense.
- With a depleted arsenal of weapons, Brady didn’t muster up much, throwing for 213 yards and an interception on 26-of-48 passing. He was sacked four times for 30 yards in what was a very bad showing from the Tampa Bay offensive line.
- Ronald Jones II gave the offense a little spark in the second half, running for 63 yards on eight carries.
- Chris Godwin finished as the Bucs’ leading receiver despite missing most of the game. He caught six passes for 49 yards.
- The Buccaneer defense remarkably kept the team in it all night, doing everything it could other than forcing turnovers and scoring themselves. A couple of big pass plays from Taysom Hill to Marquez Callaway were frustrating to give up in the first half, but the defense held strong in the red zone after both to force field goals.
- Lavonte David led the way for the Tampa Bay defense, racking up 11 tackles (eight solo), a sack and three tackles for loss.
- Joe Tryon-Shoyinka was in the backfield all night, registering a sack and two tackles for loss.
- According to ESPN Stats & Info, Sunday night was the first time Brady has been sacked four times on third down in a game since 2002.
- Per Greg Auman of The Athletic, the Patriots were 64-0 when holding an opponent to nine points or less from 2001-2019. The Bucs were also 67-6 when holding opponents to nine or less before tonight.
- Sunday was just the third time in his career that Brady has been shut out.
- The Saints have won seven straight regular season games over the Bucs.
- In both of the Bucs’ Super Bowl seasons, they were swept by the Saints in the regular season. If you’re the optimistic type, that could mean good things are to come.
- Before the game, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht confirmed that Mike Edwards and Antonio Brown would return to the team this week after serving their three-game suspensions from the NFL for misrepresenting their COVID-19 vaccination statuses.
- With the loss, the Bucs fell to the NFC’s No. 3 seed with three games to play. If the season ended right now, they would host the 49ers in the NFC Wild Card Round.
- The loss also snapped Tampa Bay’s nine-game home winning streak and dropped them to 6-1 at Raymond James Stadium this season.
The Buccaneers (10-4) hit the road next Sunday to take on the Panthers (5-9), hoping to wrap up the NFC South on attempt No. 2. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.