The New Orleans Saints are brimming with confidence, having pushed their winning streak to four behind another fourth-quarter comeback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to re-establish their swagger after a humiliating defeat. Facing the Saints makes that a difficult task, and doing so without a key player on each side of the ball would make it even harder.
The surging Saints look to open an early two-game lead atop the NFC South when they visit the Buccaneers on Sunday.
With Tampa Bay losing 48-3 to San Francisco last Sunday and New Orleans rallying to defeat Carolina 30-27, the Buccaneers fell a game behind the Saints in the division.
New Orleans (4-1) faced a late deficit until Drew Brees threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas with 50 seconds left, capping an 80-yard drive and lifting the Saints to their second comeback win in three games. They rallied from nine down in the fourth to beat Houston in Week 3.
"A win like (last Sunday's) can do a lot in that it was hard-fought, we had to come back and we had to be resilient," coach Sean Payton said. "You gain confidence from that."
The Buccaneers' confidence may have taken a hit with last weekend's embarrassing performance. They gained a season-low 272 yards and committed three turnovers while equaling the largest margin of defeat in franchise history.
"We're going to get a Tampa Bay team that's hungry," Payton said. "When you play a team that comes off a tough game like they are, you understand that they're going to be focused and ready to get past it."
Tampa Bay (3-2) seemed to lose its cool when the score got out of hand last week, receiving a pair of late unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Coach Raheem Morris did his best to keep his players motivated in a dejected locker room following the game.
"He basically said you can go one of two ways," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "You can sulk about it. Or you can decide to stand up and face it like a man. Judging by the response of the team, we're choosing the latter."
The Bucs might have to move forward, however, without running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who both left the loss with injuries.
Blount has a sore left knee, and Morris declined to speculate about whether the team's leading rusher will be able to play. He's rushed for 279 yards and three TDs in Tampa Bay's three wins, compared to 49 yards and no scores in two defeats.
If Blount can't go, Earnest Graham, Kregg Lumpkin and Allen Bradford likely would share carries.
Tampa Bay also might lean a bit more on Freeman, but he hasn't displayed the same composure in the pocket as a year ago.
Freeman threw two more interceptions last week, bringing his season total to six - the same number he had all of last season. His 4.17 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season was second in the NFL, and his 0.50 mark this year is the worst.
"He's got to make better decisions," Morris said.
Freeman might have better luck protecting the ball against the Saints, who have an NFC-low four takeaways. He passed for 474 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in two games against them last season.
These teams have split their last three season series, and the road team has won the last four meetings. New Orleans has won its last two visits to Tampa by a combined 69-13 score, with Brees throwing for three TDs in each.
Preventing another big day from the Saints offense won't be made easier if McCoy can't play.
McCoy, whose left ankle injury was described by Morris as "week to week," was part of a defensive front that arrived in San Francisco ranked 11th against the run, allowing an average of 101.0 yards. With McCoy going out, the 49ers shredded the Bucs for 213 yards on the ground.
Although New Orleans obviously relies more on passing than running, backs Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Thomas have done a good job of complementing Brees.
The Saints are 14th in the league in rushing at 115.4 yards per game after ranking 28th a year ago at 94.9. Overall, they rank second in total offense (469.2 ypg) and fifth in scoring (31.4 ppg).
Brees is second in the NFL with 1,769 passing yards, topping 350 in each of the last three games. No player has thrown for at least 350 in four consecutive games in NFL history.
Brees has thrown for fewer than 300 yards in five straight against Tampa Bay, averaging 240.0 with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Buccaneers' defense is 20th against the pass this year, yielding 254.6 yards per game.