The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost for the first time at home in 2020 on Sunday night, but not for the first time to the New Orleans Saints, who completed a season sweep with a dominating 38-3 victory and took over first place in the NFC South.
The loss dropped Tampa Bay to 6-3 on the season and 3-1 at Raymond James Stadium, while the Saints improved to 6-2 and took a half-game lead in the division, which they are seeking to win for the fourth straight season. Their win on Sunday in front of a prime-time national audience, coupled with a 34-23 win over Tampa Bay in New Orleans in Week One, gives the Saints a significant head-to-head tiebreaker edge.
Tampa Bay saw a three-game winning streak come to an end, while the Saints won their fifth in a row. The lopsided result surprised Tampa Bay Head Coach Bruce Arians.
"It was shocking," said Arians. "To watch us practice, the way we practiced all week, the confidence we had coming in…we have to go back in look in the mirror as coaches, players, everybody."
The Buccaneers have now played three games in prime time, with one more scheduled for Week 11 when they will host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. Tampa Bay lost to Chicago on Thursday Night Football, 20-19, in Week Five, then snuck by a one-win New York Giants squad, 25-23, on Monday Night Football last week.
"That's one of the things we have to look at because that's what we just addressed in the locker room," said Arians. "We have stunk in those games. We won one of them but we should have won the other one but we didn't. This one we just basically handed it to them."
Tampa Bay came into the weekend with the NFL's second-best scoring differential but suffered its worst defeat since a 48-10 decision at Chicago in Week Four of the 2018 season. The Buccaneers avoided being shut out for the first time since 2016 – also against New Orleans – when K Ryan Succop hit a 48-yard field goal with six minutes left in regulation.
Despite welcoming WR Chris Godwin back from an injured finger and debuting recently-signed WR Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay's offense started the evening extremely slowly. Tampa Bay's first four drives all went three-and-out, including one after Jordan Whitehead had snipped a scoring threat at the two-yard line with a forced fumble against TE Jared Cook, with Lavonte David recovering. The Buccaneers didn't record their initial first down of the game until three-and-a-half minutes had elapsed in the second quarter. The momentum was short-lived. Immediately after rookie WR Tyler Johnson got that first down with an 11-yard catch, DT David Onyemata intercepted a Tom Brady pass that was tipped by DE Marcus Davenport and then deflected off another player.
The Saints made good use of the excellent field position those brief Bucs possessions created, scoring on drives of 65, 35, 50 and 27 yards in the game's first quarter-and-a-half, and their 31-point halftime lead put the game away early. By the end of the game, the Saints had an average drive start of the 37 (despite one that started at their own one-yard line) compared to the Bucs' average start of the 27. New Orleans rolled up 420 yards of offense on the evening, compared to 194 for the Buccaneers.
"It's about playing better and execution and we all have to do our jobs a lot better," said Brady. "When you play good teams there's little margin for error. They've been a great team for a long time. They've got a lot of good players. If we're going to beat them we've got to play a lot better than we did tonight."
There was very little for the Buccaneers to point to as silver linings on the evening. The Bucs' top-ranked rush defense gave up a season-high 138 yards as Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill combined for five runs of 10 or more yards. The Bucs had only allowed 10 such runs in the first eight games of the season. Tampa Bay's own rushing attack started out slowly and then was essentially abandoned due to the big scoreboard deficit, finishing with just eight yards. Even the team's most impressive statistic of 2020 – a streak of 22 straight goal-to-go drives that resulted in touchdowns – came to an end in the third quarter when the offense failed on four straight tries from the one-yard line. That scoring opportunity was set up by the second takeaway by the Bucs' defense, but it went for naught.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 9 matchup against New Orleans on Sunday Night Football.
"The second half, we got the turnover and we don't score the touchdown," said Arians. "I thought that was the end of it right then and there. You have to give New Orleans credit; they kicked our ass in every phase."
And the historic matchup of over-40 Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks went in favor of the Saints' Drew Brees for the second time in 2020, with Brees even taking the all-time touchdown pass lead back from the Bucs' Tom Brady. Brady came in with a one-TD lead in that race, 561-560, but was held without a scoring pass for the first time in 2020 while Brees connected on four touchdowns. Brady, who had 17 touchdown passes and just one interception in the Bucs' previous six games, extended his streak of interception-free passes to 200 straight passes during the first half but was then picked off three times in the last three quarters. It was only his second multiple-interception game of the season; the first was the season-opening loss at New Orleans.
Brady was sacked three times and hit nine times in the game as he frequently was operating out of collapsing pockets.
"The pressure helps [create interceptions]," said Arians. "But when you're down 28 and you're not running, the pressure's coming. There's still no excuse for interceptions but he was getting hit."
Tampa Bay's offense produced season lows in a wide variety of categories, compiling just 13 first downs and converting on only one of nine third-down tries. The Buccaneers were also shut out on three fourth-down tries, including one that ended in Brady's third interception a desperation scrambling throw late in the third quarter. Tampa Bay's rushing total was its lowest in a single game since it finished with 12 yards against Kansas City on Sept. 13, 1981.
The Buccaneers' defense got a sack and forced fumble from OLB Shaq Barrett, recovered by S Mike Edwards, as well as David's first-quarter fumble recovery. ILB Devin White led the team with 14 tackles and DL Will Gholston recorded three tackles for loss. For much of the night, however, the Bucs' third-ranked defense was unable to get off the field. The Saints converted on nine of 14 third downs and also were successful on one of two fourth-down tries, and they didn't punt until the third quarter.
The Buccaneers will travel to Charlotte in Week 10 to play another division game against the 3-6 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
"Everybody's pissed off, but it's too late now," said Arians. "We've got to get ready for Carolina. It can't carry over to Wednesday. It has to be gone by Monday and hit the practice field ready for Carolina."
Additional game details (scoring plays in bold):
The Buccaneers got the ball first but did nothing with their opening possession, as a Brady pass targeting Gronkowski on third-and-three fell incomplete. Bradley Pinion's angled 33-yard punt went out of bounds at the Saints' 35.
Brees marched the Saints methodically down the field on their first drive, getting the ball over midfield with a scrambling 11-yard pass to TE Josh Hill. Gadget QB Taysom Hill came in on a third-and-three at the Bucs' 33 and converted it with a 19-yard strike to TE Jared Cook. Pierre-Paul nearly intercepted Brees two plays later, making it third-and-10 at the 14. However, WR Tre'Quan Smith somehow slipped into the end zone on the next play without a defender within 10 yards and easily hauled in a 14-yard scoring pass to put the Saints on the board.
A first-down incompletion and a holding call on Donovan Smith doomed Tampa Bay's second drive and they quickly punted the ball back to Brees and the Saints. New Orleans had good field position again, starting at their own 34 at the midway point of the first quarter. That quickly became a scoring opportunity when Brees found WR Deonte Harris down the left seam and Harris broke a tackle to scamper all the way down to the Bucs' 26. The Saints had to convert a fourth-and-inches at the Bucs' 17 and did so, if barely, with an underneath handoff to extra lineman John Hurst. Arians challenged the spot but it was upheld. However, two plays later Whitehead managed to strip the ball out of Cook's hands near the goal-line and David recovered for Tampa Bay at the two-yard line.
Once again, the Bucs' offense went three-and-out as a deep ball to Brown on second down was broken up near midfield. The Saints got the ball back at Tampa Bay's 35. Kamara immediately ripped off a 17-yard run over right guard, and three plays later Brees found TE Adam Trautman over the middle for a seven-yard score.
The Bucs' fourth straight three-and-out led to a short punt and New Orleans getting the ball back at the midfield stripe one minute into the second quarter. The Saints then deployed Taysom Hill again, first on a 21-yard grab over the middle and then on a 23-yard sprint out of the quarterback position. Two plays later, Emmanuel Sanders made a diving grab at the goal line to put the visitors up by 21 points.
Brady hit Johnson on an 11-yard skinny post to move the sticks on the first play of the next drive, but his attempt to throw a quick screen to Jones on the next play turned into disaster when Davenport got a hand up to tip it and it ended up in the arms of Onyemata after bouncing around. The Saints took over at the Bucs' 27 and converted a third-and-six with a 10-yard crossing route to Sanders. Hill then ran it down to the one and Kamara took it in from there to make it 28-0.
A 20-yard strike by Brady to Godwin got the next drive started quickly and Brown's first catch as a Buccaneer converted a third-and-three just across midfield. The Bucs chose to go for it on fourth-and-six at the Saints' 38 with five minutes left in the half but a desperation heave downfield under pressure to Gronkowski was just out of his reach.
New Orleans took over on downs at its own 38 and immediately got an 11-yard carry from Kamara and a 20-yard catch from Thomas to get the ball into Bucs territory. Brees hit Cook over the middle on third-and-seven from the Bucs' 18 but S Mike Edwards knocked the ball loose with a hard hit. The Saints settled for a 36-yard field goal by Wil Lutz with just under two minutes left in the first half.
Brady tried to mount a two-minute drive and got the ball over midfield with a 22-yard completion to WR Mike Evans, but his next pass down the left sideline was intercepted by Marcus Williams. The Saints kneeled twice to end the half.
New Orleans got the ball to start the second half and got the ball to midfield but then turned it over for the second time. Barrett hit Brees as he was trying to throw, resulting in a fumble that went across the line of scrimmage and was recovered by S Mike Edwards. Edwards returned it 31 yards to the Saints' 21.
A 12-yard catch by Evans and a pass-interference call drawn by Gronkowski made it first-and-goal at the one. A play-action throw in Evans' direction and a run up the middle by Jones failed to produce a yard. Brady hit Gronkowski in the back of the end zone on third down but LB Demario Davis knocked it away at the last moment. The Bucs went for it on fourth down but Brady and Evans couldn't quite hook up on a back-corner fade, turning the ball over on downs.
New Orleans escaped the shadow of its own goal line when Brees hit Thomas on a 10-yard out on third-and-five and Latavius Murray followed with a 17-yard run around left end. Consecutive tackles-for-loss by DL Will Gholston and David then led to a punt, with Jaydon Mickens returning it to the Bucs' 19.
Tampa Bay got to midfield with the help of a 15-yard catch by Brown but Brady was then sacked by Trey Hendrickson on consecutive plays, leading to a desperation fourth-and-seven play on which Brady took a cross-field shot to Gronkowski only to have Malcolm Jenkins come down with it at the Saints' 30.
The Saints got back into Buccaneers territory on the ensuing drive and got a first-and-goal when Hill ran for three yards on third-and-two. Brees completed the touchdown drive with a three-yard toss over the middle to Josh Hill.
Tampa Bay finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal drive. The Bucs got down to the Saints' 20 on a 20-yard catch-and-run by RB Leonard Fournette but moved backward on an intentional-grounding call and DT Malcom Brown's 10-yard sack. After Brady hit Godwin for 14 yards on third-and-34, Succop came on to drill the 48-yard field goal with six minutes left.
Former Buccaneer Jameis Winston relieved Brees to finish the game and the Saints took one more foray into Tampa Bay territory. The game ended on a trio of Winston kneel-downs.