Welp, it’s been about 24 hours and with it, the time to revel in the movie that was the Bucs’ win over the Rams in Los Angeles, has expired. It’s simply time to move onto the next opponent, which happens to be the division-rival New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are coming off a dramatic win of their own, though in the exact opposite way the Bucs’ game against the Rams was dramatic. It wasn’t a shootout in New Orleans against the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, the Saints didn’t score a single touchdown, instead winning on a combination of four field goals, the last of which came at the beginning of the fourth quarter putting the Saints up just two points on the Cowboys. From there, it was New Orleans’ defense that held quarterback Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas offense to no points. It came down to the last drive as the Saints punted the ball, giving the Cowboys the ball back with 1:39 left in the game, only needing a field goal to win the game.
The very first play of the drive was a sack of Prescott where he was dropped for 11 yards on top of a 10-second injury run-off. It pinned them at their own three-yard line. The Cowboys got as far as their own 48-yard line before they had time for one last-ditch effort. The ball was intercepted by the Saints instead, giving New Orleans the win and the division lead.
That’s why this upcoming game is so crucial for the Buccaneers. With a win, the Bucs would actually knock the Saints out of the top spot for the NFC South. Though both teams would be 3-2, because Tampa Bay already has a division win, they own the tiebreaker over New Orleans.
New Orleans is currently without quarterback Drew Brees, who was sidelined with a thumb injury suffered in Week 2. His timetable to return is around six weeks, though the latest rumors have him working to get back in five weeks. Regardless, it will be quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that will instead get the start against the Bucs this coming Sunday.
Bridgewater was just 23 of 30 passing for 193 yards and no touchdowns with one interception against the Cowboys but he did well the prior week in Seattle. He had two passing touchdowns and a QBR of 112.7 against the Seahawks. It’ll be anyone’s guess as to which Bridgewater the Bucs get in the Superdome.
But the Saints’ offense may not even be the biggest concern for Tampa Bay. As was evident in this past Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, the Saints defense has proven to be a force. They’re tied for fifth in the league in quarterback hits. They held Dallas to just a 36% third-down conversion rate and only allowed the Cowboys inside the red zone twice. Dallas’ run game only got 45 yards on the ground. A run game that includes running back Ezekiel Elliott, to be clear. Elliott had just 35 yards on the ground.
The Bucs run game has improved but it could get its first real test against the stifling Saints front.