Tampa Bay's 34-17 loss to New Orleans in Week 11 marked just the third Buccaneers game this season in which the lead never changed hands after the initial score. In Week Four, the Bucs jumped out early on the Rams in Los Angeles and never relinquished their lead in an eventual 55-40 victory. Two weeks later in London, Carolina scored first and never trailed on its way to a 37-26 decision.
However, even those two games from the season's first half had swings in which teams were expected to win over the course of 60 minutes of football. The Saints-Buccaneers game on Monday was different; for the first time this year, the Bucs played a game in which the win probability chart favored the same team the entire way. There were moments in Week Four in which the Rams were considered favorites to win, and there were moments in Week Six in which the Bucs had the win probability edge. Not so on Sunday, as the Saints were slim favorites when the game began and they scored the game's first 20 points, never thereafter leading by less than 10.
As such, for the first time, our season-long look at each game's final Turning Point is, well, a moot point. Essentially, it was the opening kickoff. Still, we can take a quick look at some of the game's minor swings along the way.
After each Buccaneers contest this season we've looked for that moment when things swung in favor of the eventual winner and never swung back. We've done so using the aforementioned "win probability" charts on ESPN.com. At any given point in the game, that chart displays the percentage that each team could be expected to win, based on data from similar situations in thousands of historical games. Unless one starts above 50% at the very beginning of the game and never dips below that mark, there is going to be a single point where the team that eventually wins goes from underdog to favorite for the final time.
Week 11 Turning Point: Not applicable.
Outcome: New Orleans 34, Tampa Bay 17
· Saints kick a field goal (Will Lutz) at 8:45 of the first quarter for a 3-0 lead
The first data point on Sunday's win probability chart showed the Saints as having a 56.3% chance of victory as they received Bradley Pinion's kickoff to start the game. The line climbed only slightly as the Saints started out with a series of short plays than took its first big jump, to 62.4% when tight end Jared Cook caught a pass over the middle for 30 yards to the Bucs' 30. It actually fell back to 55.1% when rookie safety Mike Edwards sacked reserve quarterback Taysom Hill to make it third-and-17 back to the 37, but that's the lowest it would get the rest of the way.
Because the Bucs were able to hold at the end of the Saints' first two drives, forcing a pair of field goals and falling behind by just six points, the win probability chart didn't get out of hand right away despite Tampa Bay's early struggles on offense. When rookie linebacker Devin White tackled running back Latavius Murray short of the sticks on third down from the Bucs' 11, the Saints' percentage actually dipped a bit to 67.9%.
That didn't last long, as Jameis Winston was intercepted two plays after Wil Lutz's second field goal, on a pass that went through tight end O.J. Howard's hands and ended up briefly behind his back before deflecting to linebacker Demario Davis. Drew Brees threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas on the next snap and the line leapt up to 83.1% in the Saints' favor.
New Orleans was already considered a 94.2% favorite with five minutes left in the first half after a Cook touchdown catch made it 20-0. The Buccaneers did get it back to a low of 84.4% by scoring a touchdown before halftime and then driving into scoring range on the first possession of the second half, but when they had to settle for a field goal it immediately went back to 90.9% in the Saints' favor.
The Turning Point the Buccaneers needed on Sunday never came and thus the win probability chart never graced them with its favor at any point during the contest. The first-quarter interception was the closest thing the game had to a turning point, though it was really more of a solidification of the early odds. As Head Coach Bruce Arians said after the game, "Too many mistakes to beat a good team."