Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Bucs' Division Lead Shrinks with Turnover-Marred Loss in New Orleans

The Bucs committed the game's only three turnovers, leading to 16 Saints points, and repeatedly hurt themselves on defense with penalties in a 36-27 loss that shrunk their NFC South lead to a half-game


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost in New Orleans on Sunday, 36-27, in a game that swung in the wrong direction as the result of three turnovers and then completely ran aground on the back of 11 costly penalties.

"That was an embarrassing display of football," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after the loss, just the Bucs' second in their last 16 games dating back to last season. "With all the things that we talked about coming down here it was going to take to win, and to play like that starts with me. Obviously, we weren't ready to play. Penalties, turnovers – you can't beat anybody that way."

Six minutes into the second quarter on Sunday in Superdome, the Buccaneers had a tie game and a first down on the Saints' 35-yard line. Two of Tampa Bay's next three offensive plays were turnovers, however, a sequence that sparked the Saints to a 23-7 lead in what would prove to be the Bucs' sixth straight regular-season defeat at the hands of their most heated NFC South rival.

There would be one more Buccaneer turnover to end what turned into a second-half thriller. Tampa Bay mounted a spirited comeback behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes, at one point taking a one-point lead with six minutes remaining. After the Saints took the lead back on Brian Johnson's 23-yard field goal, the Bucs still had 101 seconds left to try to erase a two-point deficit. However, P.J. Williams intercepted a Brady pass intended for Chris Godwin at the Bucs' 40-yard line and returned it for a touchdown and an insurmountable nine-point lead.

"Tough game, good team, but we obviously didn't play the way we're capable of playing, and I've got to play better," said Brady. "Tough to win that way, when you turn the ball over like we did. I've got to not throw interceptions; that's the key. We've got a lot of fighters so we'll hang in there, battle back, do better next time."

Brady unsurprisingly targeted Godwin on his second interception, who racked up 140 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, but later wished he had thrown in a different direction.

"I just threw it to the wrong guy," said Brady. "I had Mike [Evans] open. Cost us the game."

The loss drops the Buccaneers' record to 6-2, with the 5-2 Saints drawing to within a half-game of the lead in the NFC South. The Bucs will enjoy a much-needed bye in Week Nine but they could also see the Saints catch them at the top of the division while they are idle. The Saints, winners of three straight, play at home against the 3-4 Atlanta Falcons in Week Nine. After seeing his team come back from their bye week in 2020 with an eight-game winning streak, Arians says he hopes Sunday's loss serves to change the team's sense of urgency returning from this year's break.

"I hope it changes it a bunch," he said. "You drop down and start going on the road in the playoffs, it's different. Every game is critical, especially in your division, road games when you have it in your hand and you give it away. That makes everything a little bit more difficult."

Brady completed 28 of 40 passes for 375 yards, plus the four touchdowns and two interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 112.0 but a general feeling of dissatisfaction in his performance. In addition to Godwin, he also threw touchdown passes of 41 yards to Evans, 50 yards to Cyril Grayson and seven yards to Giovani Bernard. In the process he recorded the 38th four-touchdown game of his career and his 98th three-touchdown outing, both new NFL records that he used to share with long-time Saints star Drew Brees.

Cyril did a great job, got in there, got behind the defense, made the catch and made a great play," said Brady. "[Godwin] is phenomenal. Chris is an incredible player, so I've got to keep getting him the ball. He played a great game. All the receivers did."

The two early turnovers – a Brady fumble caused by Cameron Jordan's sack and a C.J. Gardner-Johnson interception – also reignited a raucous Halloween crowd in the Superdome, one that had been subdued by the knee injury sustained by Jameis Winston early in the second quarter. David Onyemata recovered Brady's fumble to set up a field goal drive aided by two roughing-the-passer calls on hits taken by backup quarterback Trevor Siemian. Gardner-Johnson returned his pick to the Buccaneers' 35, leading to Alex Armah's one-yard touchdown catch just before halftime. The Saints also got the ball to start the second half and further widened their lead with a 76-yard touchdown drive ending in Alvin Kamara's one-yard run on fourth-and-goal.

The Buccaneers scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives in the second half while the defense recorded two consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter to help the Bucs rally from 16 points down to their lead late in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay's offense generated 421 yards of offense and converted eight of 13 third downs but just couldn't overcome the turnovers.

Meanwhile, the 3-0 imbalance in turnovers was further exacerbated by a disastrous rash of penalties, mostly on defense, including the aforementioned roughing calls, a horse-collar flag on the play that injured Winston plus a taunting call on Devin White and a third-down defensive holding on Ross Cockrell on the Saints' game-winning drive. Overall, the Bucs drew 11 penalties for 99 yards while the Saints were flagged just twice for 10 yards. New Orleans' offense got six first downs by penalty. Tampa Bay got none.

"Penalties – we give it to them," said Arians. "They hit a nice reverse [on the final drive] and we just gave them easy first downs all day."

Winston, who replaced the retired Drew Brees, was making his seventh start for the Saints and his first against the Buccaneers, who made him the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Winston was the starter for most of five seasons in Tampa and left with most of the franchise's career passing records after the Buccaneers signed Brady in 2020. Winston actually made more of an impact with his legs before his unfortunate injury, scrambling for 40 yards and several critical third-down conversions on four carries. As a passer he was six of 10 for 56 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith in the first quarter. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton referred to Winston's injury as "significant" after the game.

The Buccaneers scored first after a failed fourth-down gamble near midfield by the Saints set them up with a short field. Brady capped a 44-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. The overall yardage total at halftime was nearly even – 198-176 in the home team's favor – but the nine points off those two turnovers for the Saints and the lost scoring opportunities for the Bucs made the difference in the home team building an early double-digit lead.

The Bucs got the ball first but didn't do much with it. An eight-yard catch by Tyler Johnson over the middle made it third-and-three but Godwin couldn't hold onto the ball on a tunnel screen to the left and Bradley Pinion had to punt. His 54-yard boot pushed the Saints back to their 14.

The Bucs' defense forced a third-and-nine on the Saints' first possession but Winston kept the drive going with a 20-yard scramble up the middle. Three plays later, Jamel Dean stopped Marquez Callaway a yard short of the sticks on a pass out to the left sideline, making it fourth-and-one at the New Orleans 44. The Saints went for it and the Bucs' defense stood strong against a Kamara run up the middle, with David getting credit for the stop after halting Kamara's second effort.

Brady converted a third-and-six moments later by hitting Godwin on a crossing route for a 25-yard catch-and-run down to the Saints' 15. A holding call on a first down play on which Brady held the ball for a very long time pushed it back 10 yards but Leonard Fournette made a sharp cut on a first-and-20 handoff to get 13 right back. Brady tried to hit Rob Gronkowski on a back-shoulder fade but Malcolm Jenkins made a fine play to knock it away at the goal line. The Bucs needed seven on third down for another first down but Godwin got more than that on another crossing route, diving into the end zone for the 12-yard score.

The Saints tied it up with a 75-yard touchdown drive on the next possession, with Winston twice scrambling for first downs, including a hard-nosed 13-yard run that got the ball into the red zone. Ingram also got 25 yards on two short passes and Winston finished it off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith near the left sideline in the end zone.

The Bucs got the ball across midfield on the ensuing possession before the drive stalled. Ronald Jones started it with a sharp run for nine and Jaelon Darden got eight on an end-around. An absolute laser of a pass to Tyler Johnson for nine yards moved the sticks into Saints territory but Brady's first-down bomb to Evans, who had gotten behind Lattimore by several steps, was just out of reach. The Saints held on third-and-six from the 40 and the Bucs brought on Pinion to punt it down to the Saints' eight.

The Bucs swarmed over Winston in the backfield two plays later but he somehow escaped before being dragged down from behind by White. White was flagged for a horse-collar tackle on the play and Winston was taken off with a knee injury. Siemian came in to take over the offense, with the penalty making it a first down at the Saints' 27. Winfield nearly intercepted Siemian's first pass, which was intended for tight end Adam Trautman. The Bucs' defense got off the field when Siemian's third-down pass missed Callaway, who was well-covered by Dean.

The Bucs got back into Saints territory on the next drive but it ended in the game's first turnover. A precise 20-yard strike to Godwin on the right sideline got it started and Brady converted a third-and-11 with a 31-yard completion to Godwin that took it down to the Saints' 35. However, on third-and-six from the 31, Jordan sacked Brady and forced a fumble, with Onyemata falling on it at the 37.

The Saints got three points off that takeaway on a 58-yard field goal drive aided immensely by two roughing the passer calls on consecutive plays in Bucs territory, the second one erasing a Winfield interception in the end zone. It was first-and-goal at the seven after the second penalty but the Bucs held, with Jordan Whitehead sniffing out a tight end screen to Trautman and stopping it for a loss of one on third down. Brian Johnson gave the Saints a 10-7 lead with 2:20 left in the half.

The Bucs got their two-minute drill started off nicely with a 24-yard run by Giovani Bernard that took the ball almost to midfield and brought on the two-minute warning. However, disaster struck on the first play after the break when Gardner-Johnson intercepted a pass intended for Godwin and returned it to the Bucs' 35. A 15-yard catch-and-run on the right sidelined by Smith made it first-and-goal at the four. Two Kamara runs took it down to the one and a play-action pass to Armah got it in for the Saints' 10-point lead. Johnson missed the ensuing extra point attempt.

New Orleans got the ball first to start the second half and came out firing, with Siemian going deep down the right sideline to wide receiver Kevin White for 38 yards. Four plays later, the Saints went for it on fourth down for a second time and this one was successful, with Siemian throwing under pressure to a sliding Deonte Harris for seven yards on fourth-and-four. After Kamara burst over left guard for 15 for a first-and-goal at the 10, an offsides call gave the Saints half the necessary distance and led to another fourth down at the one. The Saints went for it again and scored on a pitch to Kamara out to the left to make it 23-7 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

The Buccaneers' offense went into hurry-up mode and produced a 75-yard touchdown drive, the biggest chunk on a 44-yard reception by Godwin on which he broke a tackle in the middle of the field and sprinted deep into Saints territory. Brady finished it on third-and-four from the seven with a touchdown pass to Bernard on an out-and-in route.

The Bucs' defense responded with their best series of the game to that point and a three-and-out. Suh got Siemian down for the Bucs' first sack of the game and the next two passes were broken up in the backfield by Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. That led to a punt and a new Bucs drive starting at their own 28. A 16-yard catch over the middle by Godwin got the ball across midfield but the Bucs faced a third-and-three at the 41 moments later. Brady got the first down and more with a perfect 41-yard strike to Evans on a flag route. Evans held on despite drawing a pass-interference flag on Lattimore.

A second straight three-and-out for New Orleans put the ball back in Brady's hands before the third quarter came to an end. Whitehead nearly intercepted a first-down pass by the sideline and a fumbled snap on third down blew up that play, leading to a pressured throwaway.

The Bucs had a third-and-one at their own 28 to start the final period. Fournette broke through the line to get six and a new set of downs. However, a holding call on Ryan Jensen put the offense into a first-and-20 from which it couldn't climb out and the Bucs had to punt. The Saints started over at their own 38 with a two-point lead and 12 minutes to play.

A third-down neutral-zone infraction gifted the Saints a first down on third-and-five and a taunting call on White on the next play moved the ball all the way down to the Bucs' 35. A 14-yard catch on the right sideline by Harris created a first down at the 21 but the Bucs' defense then held and the Saints settled for a 35-yard Johnson field goal and a five-point lead with 8:31 left.

The Bucs used less than three of those remaining minutes to drive for the go-ahead score. Catches by O.J. Howard and Leonard Fournette led to first downs and then Brady found a wide-open Grayson on a deep post for the 50-yard score. Grayson had a cushion of about 20 yards on the nearest defender and was able to stroll slowly into the end zone. The Bucs went for two and failed, so their lead was just one point with a little less than six minutes to play.

The Saints converted a third down early in the next drive on a diving catch by Kamara, then got 22 yards into the fringe of field goal range on a 22-yard reverse to Harris. A defensive holding call on Ross Cockrell erased a third-down stop at the 33 and set up a new set of downs and a 16-yard catch by Callaway made it first-and-goal at the seven as the two-minute warning arrived. The Saints surprisingly threw on the first two downs, with incompletions stopping the clock, then White stopped Kamara short on a third-down catch. Johnson came on to give the Saints the lead back with a 23-yard chip shot at the 1:41 mark in the fourth quarter.

Starting at the Bucs' 25, Brady first looked deep to Evans but the pass fell incomplete. The next one was worse, as it ended up in the arms of P.J. Williams for a 40-yard pick six. The Bucs got the ball one more time but gave it up on downs after two sacks of Brady.

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