TAMPA, Fla. – Game of the Week?
It was more like the Statement of the Week as the New Orleans Saints came to Raymond James Stadium and essentially planted their flag with a 38-3 rout.
For all of the increased expectations that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can become a legitimate Super Bowl contender with Tom Brady and his high-profile supporting cast, the Saints served a reminder that they still rule the NFC South.
In other words, first things first.
The Saints (6-2), aiming for a fourth consecutive division crown, swept the season series against the Bucs (6-3) for the second year in a row in the most convincing fashion of all.
It was a laugher. The Saints scored three touchdowns before the Bucs even managed a first down. Brady suffered the most lopsided defeat of his career — the previous being a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills in 2003 — and, with three interceptions and no touchdowns, had one of his worst all-time performances. Prior to Sunday, the quarterback had never been swept by a divisional opponent, either.
And all of those Bucs weapons?
Well, it was an array of Saints players who left a mark in rolling up 420 yards.
Drew Brees threw four TD passes – to four different targets.
And Brees also passed Brady again during their see-saw exchange of the all-time TD record. The updated tally: Brees 564. Brady, stuck on 561.
Trey Hendrickson #91 and Cameron Jordan #94 of the New Orleans Saints celebrate sacking Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)
Three other things we learned from the Saints smashing of the Bucs:
1. Michael Thomas’ return does not disrupt the expanding Saints offense — In setting an NFL single-season record last year with 149 receptions, the star receiver caught 35.6% of the Saints' completions. While he was away for six games with high ankle and hamstring injuries, there was some blessing as disguise as Sean Payton and Co. were forced to expand the passing game roles.
This showed early on Sunday night as seven different skill-position players (including Thomas) contributed yards from scrimmage on the opening scoring drive (nine plays, 65 yards) and an eighth, Taysom Hill, had the longest completion with a 19-yard hookup to Jared Cook. Thomas was largely effective in his first game back (five catches, 51 yards) but the fact that he logged 17.2% of the receptions while Cook, Hill, Emmanuel Sanders, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Josh Hill, Adam Trautman and Marquez Callaway all contributed key catches illustrated just how versatile the Saints offense has become.
2. Antonio Brown’s impact did not match the hype— At least not yet. It’s pretty apparent that the Bucs’ shiny new receiver isn’t the missing link to a Super Bowl ticket. Brown had a decent debut, but questions of how he will fit into the offense will linger when considering that Mike Evans didn’t log his first reception (on his first target) until the final minute of the first half. And there are still some kinks. On Brady’s second interception (one play after Evans’ first catch), Brown seemed to slow up a bit on the route as the throw sailed several yards deeper. But Brown was hardly the only one with zig vs. zag issues in connecting with Brady. Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller pulled go routes in the first half that turned out to come nowhere close to completions.
3. The Saints' defense is capable of setting a tone— Brady was hit on the first snap of the game as Cameron Jordan barreled around the corner to force a pop-up incompletion. What an omen. The Saints’ oft-overshadowed defense forced three-and-outs on Tampa Bay’s first four possessions. Then it was a pick, a turnover on downs and another interception. And that was just the first half. A goal-line stand, another pick and a collection of sacks came later.
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