In a game that meant virtually nothing to the Saints but everything to the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay came out and showed why they belong in the playoff picture. It certainly was one that the Saints would like to have won, but it just was not to be today. The Buccaneers outplayed, outmuscled, and outscored the defending Superbowl champs to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Saints started out with a lot of fire even though the Bucs scored the first points of the game. Drew Brees and company marched down the field and topped Tampa’s field goal with a 4-yard touchdown to Jimmy Graham which gave the Saints a 7-3 lead. Then, with 12:21 left in the 2nd quarter, Julius Jones fumbled on the 4 yard line, ending what had been a very impressive drive by the Saints and gave the ball and the momentum back to Josh Freeman and company.
After moving the ball down the field, the Bucs were forced to settle for the field goal when Tracy Porter was flagged for being offsides, giving Tampa Bay an automatic 1st down and a subsequent touchdown. The Bucs 96-yard scoring march down the field was the longest against the Saints this year. For some reason, they just never could rebound from the lost fumble and let this one get away.
The good news for the Saints is that they’re going into the playoffs as the 5th seed regardless of the loss. But perhaps even better for them, they’ll be on the road and I think they play better on the road. The bad news is they are dessimated by injuries. There was a laundry list of injured players prior to the game, but we also saw Malcolm Jenkins, Jimmy Graham, and Chris Ivory go down to injuries in the loss to the Bucs.
Neither player was able to come back. Just when we thought everybody was getting healthy at the right time, these key injuries happen. And this time, there won’t be a bye week to get players healthy. Whatever necessary rehab is going to have to be quick and hopefully effective. At this stage, all we can do is wait and see how serious the injuries are and hope that none are serious enough to keep the players out the game.
The biggest concern I have for the Saints going forward are the obvious deficiencies on the Saints offensive line that have let the pressure get to Brees more often than it should. If not for Brees’ athleticism and nimble feet, I shudder to think of what might happen to him. Those guys also get way too many penalties.
I’m also worried about the poor special teams performances on kickoff and punt return defenses. The poor tackling has got to be an area of concern for Sean Payton. But one thing we know about Payton is that he will have this team ready to go into the playoffs. If they’re healthy, they will be the team to beat down the stretch. Let’s hope and pray that that will be the case.
Other Game Notables:
- Reggie Bush had an impressive game with 70 rushing yards on 9 carries. He also had 9 catches for 55 yards.
- Chris Ivory had 33 yards on 7 carries before leaving the game with an injury.
- Adrian Arrington was impressive on his first NFL showing with 7 catches for 79 yards.
- Lance Moore had 6 catches for 53 yards.
- Drew Brees finished the game 22 for 38 for 196 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. Hiss 22 completions on the day puts his season total at 448, breaking his own previous NFL record of 440 set back in 2007.
- Will Smith recorded another sack.