1. TE Cam Brate stepped up.
With the Saints defense playing the Bucs' top two receivers in Chris Godwin & Mike Evans tough, someone else needed to step up to get the Bucs offense going. That player was veteran tight end Cam Brate who had a career-high 10 receptions on Sunday. None of them were particularly flashy and none of them were in the end zone, but Brate was the work horse on the way to Jameis Winston's fifth-consecutive game with over 300 yards passing.
"They tried to take Mike [Evans] and Chris [Godwin] out of the game, so the ball had to go somewhere else," Brate said. "We found ourselves down two scores pretty early so we kind of had to switch up the script and rely on the passing game to get us back in the game and there were spots in their zones and Jameis [Winston] just kind of checking it down to me throughout."
Brate had two back-to-back receptions on the drive that resulted in the Bucs' first touchdown of the day. He set the Bucs up with a first-and-10 at midfield before Winston unloaded a beautiful ball to rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller streaking down the field. It was a 48-yard gain that put the Bucs at the one-yard line where running back Peyton Barber would eventually get into the end zone for the Bucs.
More impressively than that, Brate came up big on a crucial third down to start the second half. The Bucs got the ball back and were down 20-7, needing a score to help gain some momentum. Third-and-six at their own 41 and Winston hit Brate for 12 yards – extending the drive. The drive stalled a bit but not before the Bucs got in field goal range, which with kicker Matt Gay means 55 yards out. It put Tampa Bay within 10 points in the third quarter.
2. Devin White keeps coming into his own.
The rookie inside linebacker and first pick for the Bucs in the 2019 draft set a career-high in tackles on Sunday with 13, 11 of which were solo.
White had multiple tackles of Saints' wide receiver Michael Thomas in space, mitigating what otherwise could have been major gains for the veteran pass catcher. White has been on a steady incline since returning from injury after the last Saints' game. He was available for that game but not wanting to rush him back, didn't get work. His first game with a major role was in London against Carolina where he registered nine total tackles. Two games later in Seattle he set a new career-high with 12 tackles. Two games later, we had Sunday where he had 13. As he gets more comfortable with the scheme, his play gets faster and he makes more plays. Simple as that.
"I mean the game's been slowing down for me it's just all about being healthy," White said. "It's not a visual thing for me. I just try to go out there and help my team get a win, that's all. I've got great coaches, that's all I can say. All the credit goes to those guys, the training staff and the weight room. AP [Anthony Piroli] just does a great job, so it allows me to be at my best out there."
3. Turnovers prove too much to overcome again.
Coach Arians had talked previously about not getting down by large margins early as being one of the keys to success for the team. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the Bucs' undoing was this past Sunday against the Saints. The first quarter was all New Orleans, with the Saints holding a time of possession advantage of 13:19 to 1:41. Still, it could have been worse. The Bucs went into the second quarter down 13-0. The defense had bent but didn't quite break until the very end of the quarter, holding New Orleans to field goals on their first two drives. The second drive saw the Saints get as close as the Tampa Bay eight-yard-line but behind two big tackles by White and an offensive holding call, the Saints kicked the field goal.
The next drive was the killer. A fluke play in which Winston fired a pass off to tight end O.J. Howard turned into an interception where Howard bobbled the ball behind his back in an effort to catch it. He ended up keeping it in the air for Saints safety Marcus Williams to ultimately pluck it out of the air before it hit the ground at the Bucs' 16-yard line. One play later and wide receiver Michael Thomas was in the end zone on a 16-yard pass from Brees.
The offense continues to sputter and New Orleans added to their lead with another touchdown, plunging Tampa Bay into a 20-0 hole by the middle of the second quarter. From there, it was up to the Bucs to play catchup. In that effort, you inevitably end up abandoning the run game in favor of the pass – trying to get chunk yards quickly. The Bucs had just six rushing attempts from running backs and the leading rusher ended up being quarterback Jameis Winston, who had a 23-yard scamper in the second half.
This also leads to shorter drives, which means the defense is on the field much more than you want them to be. The Bucs' longest drive of the game was just over four minutes. By comparison, the Saints' longest drive was over seven minutes and five of their nine drives were over five minutes.
Throw in the extra opportunities because of the turnovers and it's a domino effect that's a lot to overcome. Too much, as evidenced by the 34-17 final score.
"We get two long drives, but we hold them to six [points]," Arians said. "Then, we drop a ball and give it to them and now we're down 13. I thought we stayed within the plan. The touchdown was big. Then, right before the half, that crazy interception that bounces their way. I mean, we got a field goal. That's a double score [if] we come out and we get another field goal. Now, the game's a whole lot different. That play and the fourth-and-one, to me, were the two deciding plays for us."