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Series History: Bucs-Saints

Posted Dec 27, 2017

Tampa Bay and New Orleans are familiar Week 17 foes, and once again they meet with end-of-the-season playoff implications adding to the drama

For the fourth time in the last eight years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints will wrap up their respective regular seasons together in 2017. This year, the Buccaneers are looking to forge a split, both in that set of four contests and the current season's head-to-head divisional battle. Also, for the third time in that set of four season-enders, there are significant playoff implications on the line.

Tampa Bay visited the Louisiana Superdome in Week 17 of the 2010 campaign – the Raheem Morris "Race to 10" year – and did indeed get their 10th win of the season with a 23-13 decision over the Saints. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Green Bay and the New York Giants also got their 10th wins that Sunday, leading to a three-way tie for the final NFC Wild Card spot. The Packers won the tiebreaker and the playoff spent, and went on to turn that six-seed into a Super Bowl title. The Saints still finished 11-5 even with the loss to Tampa Bay but then lost a Wild Card game to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, winners of a very strange NFC West race.

The Buccaneers were back in New Orleans at the end of 2013 but the game only had postseason meaning for the home team. The Saints and Arizona Cardinals went into the weekend with identical 10-5 marks and the sixth seed on the line. New Orleans beat the Bucs, 42-17, but the Cardinals lost to a playoff-bound San Francisco team and the Saints got the playoff invite. The following year, the Saints came to Tampa in Week 17 but that was a matchup of 6-9 and 2-13 teams; New Orleans rallied in the second half for a 23-20 win.

This year, the Saints visit Raymond James Stadium with a playoff spot already secured, but they are still vying for that much-preferred NFC South championship and a home game in the first round of the playoffs. While the 11-4 Saints are battling a very game Buccaneers squad, the 11-4 Panthers will simultaneously be trying their luck in Atlanta. New Orleans, which has already beaten Carolina twice, only needs to beat the Buccaneers to snare the division title. Interestingly, there is no scenario in which the Saints can earn the #2 seed and a first-round bye, while such a possibility does still exist for the Panthers.

If the Buccaneers deny their Louisiana foes the 2017 division title, they will also manage a split in the series for the third year in a row. With its 30-10 victory at the Superdome in November, the Saints extended their all-time lead in the series to 32-19. New Orleans is 14-8 all-time in games played in Tampa.

Prior to the splits in 2015 and 2016, New Orleans had gotten the sweep the previous four seasons (2011-14). Tampa Bay has swept the season series twice since the NFC South was formed in 2002, and those sweeps coincided with the Bucs' last two playoff appearances in 2005 and 2007. Strangely, the Saints swept the Buccaneers in 2002, giving Tampa Bay half of the four losses they would incur that entire season as they marched to a Super Bowl championship.

The Bucs-Saints series was played frequently even before the two joined the same division. Twenty of the Buccaneers' first 26 seasons, before they were put into the new NFC South, included a game against the Saints. Strangely, Tampa Bay actually has a better winning percentage against the Saints in New Orleans (11-18, .379) than it does in Tampa (8-14, .364), albeit by a slight margin.

The lowest-scoring game in the entire series was a 10-3 Bucs victory in 2005 that was actually played at LSU's Tiger Stadium after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Superdome. That was the year before Drew Brees and Sean Payton arrived and kicked off a new era of success…high-scoring success. That's what made the first Bucs-Saints meeting last year such an anomaly. The Bucs' five-point victory marked just the second time in the Brees-Payton era that the Saints had been held without a touchdown in a game. Neither team cracked 300 yards of offense in the game but the Bucs got the only touchdown on a second-effort one-yard TD dive by Doug Martin and Tampa Bay's defense picked Brees off three times.

The Saints exacted their revenge two weeks later in a game in which both teams put up good yardage totals (349 for the Bucs to 417 for the Saints) but New Orleans secured the only two takeaways for a critical edge. Jameis Winston threw touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Cameron Brate but was also picked off twice by safety Jairus Byrd. The Bucs got a field goal with two minutes left to pull within a score but couldn't pull off a successful onside kick and lost 31-24.

In 2015, Tampa Bay got its first victory of the season with a 26-19 downing of the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That was also the site of the first win in franchise history, period, as the 1977 Bucs snapped a 26-game losing streak with a 33-14 road win over the Saints in the penultimate week of the season. More on that below. In the 2015 visit, Tampa Bay's defense sacked Brees four times, three by DE Jacquies Smith, and forced three turnovers, barely holding on at the end as Brees threw two balls into the end zone. New Orleans returned the favor with its own seven-point win in Tampa much later in the year, as Brees threw for 312 yards and delivered two touchdown passes to WR Marques Colston.

The Bucs have never won more than two in a row in the head-to-head affair, but they had taken six of nine before the Saints when on a seven-game run of victories from 2011-14. However, seven of the last nine games have been decided by seven points or less, including one overtime affair.

As for the Bucs' memorable win 1977, which was just the franchise's second year of existence, it was a long time coming. Expansion rules were not nearly as favorable in that era as they would be in later waves that brought in Carolina, Jacksonville, the new Cleveland Browns and Houston.  Head Coach John McKay started with a roster mostly made of castoffs and rookies in 1976, but had at least fashioned a presentable defense by 1977.  That defense went nuts in the Superdome, returning three interceptions for touchdowns, a feat that the Buccaneers have only matched once in the next 37 years, and that was in their Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland.  Tampa Bay's win cost Saints Head Coach Hank Stram his job but caused jubilation in Tampa, where thousands were waiting at team headquarters for the Buccaneers' return that evening.

The Saints – now with Dick Nolan at the helm – got a bit of revenge the next two years in Tampa, winning 17-10 in 1978 and 42-14 in 1979.  That latter loss was a bit of a surprise, as the Buccaneers had started the '79 season with five straight wins and then lost by just three points to the Giants on the road in Week Six before the Saints' visit.  The 2-4 Saints came to town, and after a strange, scoreless first half, the Buccaneers scored three plays into the second half on a 49-yard Ricky Bell run followed by a 22-yard Isaac Hagins TD catch.  Looking good, right?  Well, sure, until the Saints scored a touchdown on each of their next six possessions, almost all of it coming on the ground.  New Orleans ended up running for 234 yards and five scores in a 42-14 blowout.  The Bucs would still rally to win the division that year.

The Bucs were also playoff bound in 1981 and 1982 when they went back to New Orleans, and they won both, 31-14 and 13-10.  That former game was closer than the score indicates, as the Bucs held a 17-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter before Doug Williams hit Gordon Jones on a four-yard touchdown pass and James Owens ran one in from six yards out.  In the latter game, with both the Bucs and the Saints battling a crowded NFC playoff field in the 1982 season truncated by a players’ strike, Tampa Bay won by about a foot.  That’s the estimated distance that the great Morten Andersen missed a 60-yard field goal try at the end of a 13-10 Bucs decision in New Orleans, one in which former Raiders QB Kenny Stabler threw 43 times for 333 yards and a score.  The Bucs countered with S Neal Colzie, who recovered two fumbles, had a sack of Stabler and racked up 10 tackles.

Neither the Bucs nor the Saints had much going for them through the middle of the '80s, and that contributed to the frequency with which they were reacquainted, as the NFL's old scheduling formula relied much more on strength of schedule (i.e. the previous year's records).  So it was that the Bucs and Saints met every year from 1977-92 except 1980.  The Saints had a run of playoff contention from 1987-92 and the Bucs followed with one of their own from 1997-2002…and somehow the annual meetings continued.  After the aforementioned streak, the Bucs and Saints also played each other in 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001.  All told, Tampa Bay played New Orleans 20 times from 1977 through 2001, making the Saints its most frequent opponent outside of the now-defunct NFC Central division.  Obviously, the formation of the NFC South in 2002 meant those nearly annual meetings would become annual double-dips.

There were some memorable moments before the two teams became division foes.  New Orleans won 13 of those first 20 games and did have a six-game run of victories from 1983-88; a 1989 Tampa Bay victory interrupted that streak but the Saints countered with the next four decisions.

The 1987 meeting between the two teams may not have had much in the way of playoff implications, but it did mark the first NFL start for QB Vinny Testaverde, the first overall pick in the ’87 draft.  The Saints were clearly going to the postseason and the Bucs were clearly not when the two teams met in December of that year, but it was still an important outing for the visiting team as it turned over the reins to its prized rookie.  Testaverde promptly threw for 369 yards – 212 of them to fellow rookie WR Mark Carrier – but the Bucs lost 44-34, in part because Testaverde lost fumbles on each of his team’s first two drives.

Ten years after his missed 60-yarder, Morten Andersen hit from 50 yards out to give New Orleans a 23-21 win in New Orleans in 1992.  The Bucs had taken the lead earlier in the fourth quarter on Reggie Cobb’s four-yard TD run, and had been in the game despite a struggling offense (309 Saints yards to the Bucs’ 154) thanks to LB Broderick Thomas’ 56-yard pick-six.  In 1996, a 13-7 win over the Saints in Tampa was part of the encouraging 5-2 finish to the season that preceded a long run of playoff campaigns.  Rookie FB Mike Alstott had one of his best games, catching seven passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, and the Bucs picked off Saints QB Jim Everett three times.

The Bucs took the last two meetings between the teams before they both joined the NFC South, winning handily in both 1999 (31-16) and 2001 (48-21). Those were also playoff seasons for the Buccaneers.  However, when the South was formed in 2002, the Saints took what proved to be a surprising series sweep, given that Tampa Bay lost only four games that entire season and went on to win the Super Bowl.  New Orleans captured the season opener that September, 26-20 in overtime, in what was not only the Bucs' first game in their new division but also the first game under new Head Coach Jon Gruden.

The Buccaneers and Saints were totally even after the first 10 years of NFC South play, each winning 10 times.  The Bucs got sweeps in 2005 and 2007, and to continue the theme, in both cases made it to the postseason.  However, the Saints’ sweep last year extended their current streak in the series to five games (and it went to six earlier this year).

The Bucs and Saints were both 7-6 when they met two days before Christmas in 2001 (the season was pushed back by the 9/11 terrorist attacks), but this one didn’t seem like an even match of playoff hopefuls.  The Buccaneers completely dominated the game, beginning with Aaron Stecker’s 86-yard non-scoring kickoff return to open the action.  Stecker’s return set up a 14-yard touchdown catch by WR Karl Williams and began a Buc avalanche that led to a 30-0 lead and an eventual 48-21 victory.  Ronde Barber tied a team record by picking off three passes, returning one of them for a touchdown.

Amazingly, Barber would have another three-interception game against the Saints just four years later, in 2005, in a game played at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge thanks to Hurricane Katrina.  The Bucs would need all of those takeaways to hold on to a 10-3 win in which the offense generated just 215 total yards.  The two teams met again in Tampa in the season finale, and the Buccaneers won again, 27-13, to take the NFC South crown.  The game was still in doubt inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, with the Saints near midfield and trailing 20-13.  That’s when DE Dewayne White sacked QB Todd Bouman, forced a fumble, recovered the loose ball and ran 34 yards for the clinching touchdown.

Perhaps the Bucs' most surprising win in the series – though Hank Stram's 1977 bosses might have argued the point – came five years ago near the end of the 2009 season.  That happens to be the greatest season in Saints history, one that culminated in a 31-17 win over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV.  For the Buccaneers, it was their first year under the leadership of Head Coach Raheem Morris, and the team was definitely a work in progress.  As such, Tampa Bay took a 2-12 record into the Superdome to face the 13-1 Saints.  In what is one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, in terms of the two teams' disparate W-L records, the Buccaneers withstood a typical Drew Brees outing (32 of 37 for 258 yards, one TD and no INTs), countering with Cadillac Williams' 129 rushing yards and one huge play on special teams.  That play was a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown by Micheal Spurlock that tied the game at 17-17 with 2:25 left in regulation.  Brees drove the Saints down into field goal range at the end of regulation but Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal.  Given a second chance, the Bucs won the toss to start overtime and simply handed the ball to Williams over and over again.  He carried the ball on nine of the 10 plays of a 48-yard drive that set up Connor Barth's game-winning 47-yard field goal.

The Bucs also beat a playoff-bound Saints team in the Superdome on the final weekend of the following season, though on this occasion the visitors were also chasing a playoff berth.  The Bucs had to have a win (and some help) to keep their postseason hopes alive, and Josh Freeman completed 21 of 26 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in a 23-13 Bucs win.  Tampa Bay didn't get the help it needed, however, losing a third-level tiebreaker for the final playoff spot to the Packers, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.

Bucs-Saints Game-by-Game Record:

1977 W, 33-14 New Orleans
1978 L, 17-10 Tampa
1979 L, 42-14 Tampa
1981 W, 31-14 New Orleans
1982 W, 13-10 New Orleans
1983 L, 24-21 Tampa
1984 L, 17-13 New Orleans
1985 L, 20-13 New Orleans
1986 L, 38-7 New Orleans
1987 L, 44-34 New Orleans
1988 L, 13-9 New Orleans
1989 W, 20-10 Tampa
1990 L, 35-7 New Orleans
1991 L, 23-7 New Orleans
1992 L, 23-21 New Orleans
1994 L, 9-7 Tampa
1996 W, 13-7 Tampa
1998 L, 9-3 New Orleans
1999 W, 31-16 New Orleans
2001 W, 48-21 Tampa
2002 L, 26-20 (OT) Tampa
2002 L, 23-20 New Orleans
2003 L, 17-14 Tampa
2003 W, 14-7 New Orleans
2004 W, 20-17 New Orleans
2004 L, 21-17 Tampa
2005 W, 10-3 Baton Rouge
2005 W, 27-13 Tampa
2006 L, 24-21 New Orleans
2006 L, 31-14 Tampa
2007 W, 31-14 Tampa
2007 W, 27-23 New Orleans
2008 L, 24-20 New Orleans
2008 W, 23-20 Tampa
2009 L, 38-7 Tampa
2009 W, 20-17 (OT) New Orleans
2010 L, 31-6 Tampa
2010 W, 23-13 New Orleans
2011 W, 26-20 Tampa
2011 L, 27-16 New Orleans
2012 L, 35-28 Tampa
2012 L, 41-0 New Orleans
2013 L, 16-14 Tampa
2013 L, 42-17 New Orleans
2014 L, 37-31 (OT) New Orleans
2014 L, 23, 20 Tampa
2015 W, 26-19 New Orleans
2015 L, 24-17 Tampa
2016 W, 16-11 Tampa
2016 L, 31-24 New Orleans
2017 L, 10-30 New Orleans


Series Notes:

  • Overall Season Series: Saints lead, 32-19
  • Bucs' Home Record: 8-14
  • Bucs' Road Record: 11-18
  • Current Streak: Lose 2 (2016-17)
  • Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 2 (six times)
  • Saints' Longest Winning Streak: 7 (2011-14)
  • Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 934, Saints 1,124
  • Most Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Buccaneers, 48, Saints 21 (2001)
  • Most Points in a Game for New Orleans: Saints 44, Buccaneers 34 (1987)
  • Most Points, combined: 78, Saints 44, Buccaneers 34 (1987)
  • Fewest Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Saints 41, Buccaneers 0 (2012)
  • Fewest Points in a Game for New Orleans: Buccaneers 10, Saints 3 (2005)
  • Fewest Points in a Game, combined: 13, Buccaneers 10, Saints 3 (2005)