Pictures of the Top 10 Saints in Week 13, according to their Pro Football Focus player grade.
In Week 14 of last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a home game against the New Orleans Saints and a chance to complete their first season sweep of their division rivals since 2007. Alas, the Saints, who were 4-8 at the time and two back of the playoff-contending Buccaneers, had other plans. Drew Brees and company left Tampa with a 24-17 win and Tampa Bay's playoff hopes sunk from there.
In Week 14 of this season, the playoff-contending Buccaneers have a home game against the Saints, who are once again two games back in the standings. This time, however, there is no sweep on the table for either team as this is actually the first of their two meetings in 2016.
The Bucs and Saints will meet again 13 days later in New Orleans, as for the first time since 1994 that Tampa Bay will play the same opponent twice over the last four weeks of the season. That was a home-and-away pairing with the NFC East's Washington Redskins, a vagary of the old schedule-making process that put more emphasis on the previous year's standings. The only other time the Buccaneers have ever played a division opponent twice within the last four weeks of the season was in 1985, against Green Bay, and Tampa Bay wasn't even close to being in playoff contention then.
If the Bucs want to stay in the postseason picture this time around, it may take a sweep of the Saints, which they have only pulled off twice since the formation of the NFC South in 2002, doing so in 2005 and 2007. Those also happen to be Tampa Bay's last two playoff seasons. At 7-5, Tampa Bay is currently holding the sixth seed in the NFC field and is tied with Atlanta for first place in the division. Three of the Saints final four games are against the Bucs and Falcons, meaning they could be the deciding factor as to who comes out on top in the end.
Overall, the Saints lead the all-time series, 30-18. It was one that was played frequently even before they became division mates in the 2002 realignment. Twenty of the Buccaneers' first 26 seasons, before they were put into the new NFC South, included a game against the Saints. Strangely, Tampa Bay actually has a better winning percentage against the Saints in New Orleans (11-16, .407) than it does in Tampa (7-14, .333). For an example of the Bucs' sometimes strange struggles with New Orleans at home, look no further than the 2002 Super Bowl season, which began with a 26-20 overtime win for the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs would win 15 of their next 18 games, including Super Bowl XXXVII.
Last year, Tampa Bay got its first victory of the season with a 26-19 downing of the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That was also the site of the first win in franchise history, period, as the 1977 Bucs snapped a 26-game losing streak with a 33-14 road win over the Saints in the penultimate week of the season. More on that below. In the 2015 visit, Tampa Bay's defense sacked Brees four times, three by DE Jacquies Smith, and forced three turnovers, barely holding on at the end as Brees threw two balls into the end zone. As noted, New Orleans returned the favor with its own seven-point win in Tampa much later in the year, as Brees threw for 312 yards and delivered two touchdown passes to WR Marques Colston.
The Bucs have never won more than two in a row in the head-to-head affair, but they had taken six of nine before the Saints when on a seven-game run of victories from 2011-14. However, five of the last six games have been decided by seven points or less, including one overtime affair.
As for the Bucs' memorable win 1977, which was just the Bucs' second year of existence, it was a long time coming. Expansion rules were not nearly as favorable in that era as they would be in later waves that brought in Carolina, Jacksonville, the new Cleveland Browns and Houston. Head Coach John McKay started with a roster mostly made of castoffs and rookies in 1976, but had at least fashioned a presentable defense by 1977. That defense went nuts in the Superdome, returning three interceptions for touchdowns, a feat that the Buccaneers have only matched once in the next 37 years, and that was in their Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland. Tampa Bay's win cost Saints Head Coach Hank Stram his job but caused jubilation in Tampa, where thousands were waiting at team headquarters for the Buccaneers' return that evening.
The Saints – now with Dick Nolan at the helm – got a bit of revenge the next two years in Tampa, winning 17-10 in 1978 and 42-14 in 1979. That latter loss was a bit of a surprise, as the Buccaneers had started the '79 season with five straight wins and then lost by just three points to the Giants on the road in Week Six before the Saints' visit. The 2-4 Saints came to town, and after a strange, scoreless first half, the Buccaneers scored three plays into the second half on a 49-yard Ricky Bell run followed by a 22-yard Isaac Hagins TD catch. Looking good, right? Well, sure, until the Saints scored a touchdown on each of their next six possessions, almost all of it coming on the ground. New Orleans ended up running for 234 yards and five scores in a 42-14 blowout. The Bucs would still rally to win the division that year.
The Bucs were also playoff bound in 1981 and 1982 when they went back to New Orleans, and they won both, 31-14 and 13-10. That former game was closer than the score indicates, as the Bucs held a 17-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter before Doug Williams hit Gordon Jones on a four-yard touchdown pass and James Owens ran one in from six yards out. In the latter game, with both the Bucs and the Saints battling a crowded NFC playoff field in the 1982 season truncated by a players' strike, Tampa Bay won by about a foot. That's the estimated distance that the great Morten Andersen missed a 60-yard field goal try at the end of a 13-10 Bucs decision in New Orleans, one in which former Raiders QB Kenny Stabler threw 43 times for 333 yards and a score. The Bucs countered with S Neal Colzie, who recovered two fumbles, had a sack of Stabler and racked up 10 tackles.
Neither the Bucs nor the Saints had much going for them through the middle of the '80s, and that contributed to the frequency with which they were reacquainted, as the NFL's old scheduling formula relied much more on strength of schedule (i.e. the previous year's records). So it was that the Bucs and Saints met every year from 1977-92 except 1980. The Saints had a run of playoff contention from 1987-92 and the Bucs followed with one of their own from 1997-2002…and somehow the annual meetings continued. After the aforementioned streak, the Bucs and Saints also played each other in 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. All told, Tampa Bay played New Orleans 20 times from 1977 through 2001, making the Saints its most frequent opponent outside of the now-defunct NFC Central division. Obviously, the formation of the NFC South in 2002 meant those nearly annual meetings would become annual double-dips.
There were some memorable moments before the two teams became division foes. New Orleans won 13 of those first 20 games and did have a six-game run of victories from 1983-88; a 1989 Tampa Bay victory interrupted that streak but the Saints countered with the next four decisions.
The 1987 meeting between the two teams may not have had much in the way of playoff implications, but it did mark the first NFL start for QB Vinny Testaverde, the first overall pick in the '87 draft. The Saints were clearly going to the postseason and the Bucs were clearly not when the two teams met in December of that year, but it was still an important outing for the visiting team as it turned over the reins to its prized rookie. Testaverde promptly threw for 369 yards – 212 of them to fellow rookie WR Mark Carrier – but the Bucs lost 44-34, in part because Testaverde lost fumbles on each of his team's first two drives.
Ten years after his missed 60-yarder, Morten Andersen hit from 50 yards out to give New Orleans a 23-21 win in New Orleans in 1992. The Bucs had taken the lead earlier in the fourth quarter on Reggie Cobb's four-yard TD run, and had been in the game despite a struggling offense (309 Saints yards to the Bucs' 154) thanks to LB Broderick Thomas' 56-yard pick-six. In 1996, a 13-7 win over the Saints in Tampa was part of the encouraging 5-2 finish to the season that preceded a long run of playoff campaigns. Rookie FB Mike Alstott had one of his best games, catching seven passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, and the Bucs picked off Saints QB Jim Everett three times.
The Bucs took the last two meetings between the teams before they both joined the NFC South, winning handily in both 1999 (31-16) and 2001 (48-21). Those were also playoff seasons for the Buccaneers. However, when the South was formed in 2002, the Saints took what proved to be a surprising series sweep, given that Tampa Bay lost only four games that entire season and went on to win the Super Bowl. New Orleans captured the season opener that September, 26-20 in overtime, in what was not only the Bucs' first game in their new division but also the first game under new Head Coach Jon Gruden.
The Buccaneers and Saints were totally even after the first 10 years of NFC South play, each winning 10 times. The Bucs got sweeps in 2005 and 2007, and to continue the theme, in both cases made it to the postseason. However, the Saints' sweep last year extended their current streak in the series to five games (and it went to six earlier this year).
The Bucs and Saints were both 7-6 when they met two days before Christmas in 2001 (the season was pushed back by the 9/11 terrorist attacks), but this one didn't seem like an even match of playoff hopefuls. The Buccaneers completely dominated the game, beginning with Aaron Stecker's 86-yard non-scoring kickoff return to open the action. Stecker's return set up a 14-yard touchdown catch by WR Karl Williams and began a Buc avalanche that led to a 30-0 lead and an eventual 48-21 victory. Ronde Barber tied a team record by picking off three passes, returning one of them for a touchdown.
Amazingly, Barber would have another three-interception game against the Saints just four years later, in 2005, in a game played at LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge thanks to Hurricane Katrina. The Bucs would need all of those takeaways to hold on to a 10-3 win in which the offense generated just 215 total yards. The two teams met again in Tampa in the season finale, and the Buccaneers won again, 27-13, to take the NFC South crown. The game was still in doubt inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, with the Saints near midfield and trailing 20-13. That's when DE Dewayne White sacked QB Todd Bouman, forced a fumble, recovered the loose ball and ran 34 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Perhaps the Bucs' most surprising win in the series – though Hank Stram's 1977 bosses might have argued the point – came five years ago near the end of the 2009 season. That happens to be the greatest season in Saints history, one that culminated in a 31-17 win over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV. For the Buccaneers, it was their first year under the leadership of Head Coach Raheem Morris, and the team was definitely a work in progress. As such, Tampa Bay took a 2-12 record into the Superdome to face the 13-1 Saints. In what is one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, in terms of the two teams' disparate W-L records, the Buccaneers withstood a typical Drew Brees outing (32 of 37 for 258 yards, one TD and no INTs), countering with Cadillac Williams' 129 rushing yards and one huge play on special teams. That play was a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown by Micheal Spurlock that tied the game at 17-17 with 2:25 left in regulation. Brees drove the Saints down into field goal range at the end of regulation but Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal. Given a second chance, the Bucs won the toss to start overtime and simply handed the ball to Williams over and over again. He carried the ball on nine of the 10 plays of a 48-yard drive that set up Connor Barth's game-winning 47-yard field goal.
The Bucs also beat a playoff-bound Saints team in the Superdome on the final weekend of the following season, though on this occasion the visitors were also chasing a playoff berth. The Bus had to have a win (and some help) to keep their postseason hopes alive, and Josh Freeman completed 21 of 26 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and no picks in a 23-13 Bucs win. Tampa Bay didn't get the help it needed, however, losing a third-level tiebreaker for the final playoff spot to the Packers, who would go on to win the Super Bowl.Series Notes:
- Overall Season Series: Saints lead, 30-18
- Bucs' Home Record: 7-14
- Bucs' Road Record: 11-16
- Current Streak: Lose 1 (2015)
- Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 2 (six times)
- Saints' Longest Winning Streak: 7 (2011-14)
- Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 884, Saints 1,052
- Most Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Buccaneers, 48, Saints 21 (2001)
- Most Points in a Game for New Orleans: Saints 44, Buccaneers 34 (1987)
- Most Points, combined: 78, Saints 44, Buccaneers 34 (1987)
- Fewest Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Saints 41, Buccaneers 0 (2012)
- Fewest Points in a Game for New Orleans: Buccaneers 10, Saints 3 (2005)
- Fewest Points in a Game, combined: 13, Buccaneers 10, Saints 3 (2005)
Bucs-Saints Game-by-Game Record: