NEW ORLEANS -- With a chance to take control of the NFC South and show their 55-point showing against the Los Angeles Rams last week was no fluke, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the New Orleans Saints on the road, 31-24, to drop to 2-3.
NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett and the Bucs defense were unable to pressure Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who wasn't sacked and threw for 314 yards, matching a career-high four touchdown passes. The Bucs defense surrendered 457 total yards.
With or without Drew Brees, the Saints showed that the division is still very much theirs to win. If the Bucs want to compete, they have to take it up several notches.
QB breakdown: This may have been the toughest defense quarterback Jameis Winston sees all year. Star wideout Mike Evans was a non-factor, finishing with no catches on three on targets as Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore shadowed him for much of the game. With Bucs receivers struggling against the Saints’ coverage, Winston relied almost solely on wide receiver Chris Godwin, who caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Winston went 15-of-27 for 204 passing yards and two touchdowns. He completed just 55% of his passes. He was pressured on 30% of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He escaped some close calls too, with two interceptions nullified by penalties.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Up until this point in the season, the Bucs relied on their top-ranked rushing defense, but this week, they allowed 112 yards on the ground. Their pass rush had also protected a young secondary, but its youth and inexperience showed against the Saints. Starting left cornerback Carlton Davis was ejected in the second quarter for targeting tight end Jared Cook.
The Bucs’ other starter, Vernon Hargreaves, may have had one of his worst days as a pro, which is saying a lot since he was annihilated against the Oakland Raiders three years ago. He was fooled by Michael Thomas selling a slant route, with Thomas instead racing to the corner for a 14-yard touchdown.
Then on the very first drive of the second half, Hargreaves surrendered a 42-yard catch to Thomas, while Ted Ginn was wide-open on a 33-yard touchdown on a skinny-post. Thomas would get the best of rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards in the fourth quarter by slipping both tackles for a 12-yard touchdown on a slant route to make it 31-17. Thomas finished with 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns.