When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got a first down on Sunday night, it was a few minutes into the second quarter. The New Orleans Saints led 21-0.
Then on the next play, Tom Brady’s pass was batted at the line and intercepted.
The Saints have been the bully on the NFC South block for a few years, and on Sunday they let everyone know they’re not going anywhere. What happened on Tampa Bay’s home field was shocking. The Saints embarrassed the Buccaneers 38-3. The offense moved the ball with ease, and the Saints’ defense was all over the Buccaneers’ playmakers.
NBC thought it had a marquee matchup, but casual fans were checking out in the second quarter because the outcome was already obvious. The Buccaneers were blown out so early they attempted only five rushes, which set an NFL record for fewest rushing attempts in a game. The fifth rushing attempt was a kneel-down to end the night.
To add to Tampa Bay’s miserable night, Brees took back the all-time passing touchdown record from Brady. Brees had 560 to Brady’s 561 before Sunday, and Brees threw four on Sunday night.
The Buccaneers got most of the offseason attention, then looked like the NFC’s most complete team over the first two months of the season as the Saints kept barely squeezing out close wins. After what happened in Tampa Bay on Sunday night, there won’t be any talk of the Buccaneers winning the NFC South for a while.
Saints destroy Buccaneers in first half
It’s rare to see one NFL team beat another like the Saints beat the Buccaneers. You almost never see a team on the Buccaneers’ level get handled like they did.
It was an absolute demolition. The Buccaneers’ first four possessions were three-and-out. Meanwhile, the Saints scored four touchdowns and a field goal on their first six possessions, and the one time they didn’t score was because Jared Cook was fighting for extra yards and fumbled at the Bucs’ 4-yard line. It was 31-0 at the half, and it should have been 38-0 if not for Cook’s fumble.
In the third quarter the Buccaneers finally got a big play, when Shaq Barrett forced a fumble and Tampa Bay recovered. The Buccaneers got to the 1-yard line. Then Rob Gronkowski dropped a pass in the end zone on third-and-goal and Brady couldn’t hit a fade route on fourth-and-goal. It was total domination by the Saints. For the first time in Brady’s long career, he was swept by a divisional opponent in a regular season.
For most of the first half of the season, we heard about how Brees couldn’t throw downfield anymore and Brady was an MVP candidate. There was gushing about the Buccaneers’ defense and how Antonio Brown’s addition would make Tampa Bay’s offensive unstoppable. Many signs pointed to the Buccaneers being the best team in the NFC and grabbing the division title from the Saints.
All of that will be put on hold.
Saints make a big statement
The Saints have been one of the NFL’s best teams the past three seasons. They haven’t made a Super Bowl in that time due to some excruciating playoff losses, but nobody should have doubted how good they were.
There have been moments this season in which it seemed the Saints had slipped. They were 5-2 before Sunday but the wins included coming back from trailing the miserable Detroit Lions 14-0, having to come back from being down 20-3 to beat the 2-6 Los Angeles Chargers in overtime, and needing overtime to beat the offensively-challenged Chicago Bears. The Saints had a good record but they weren’t blowing anyone away.
Then came one of the best performances you’ll ever see in the NFL against a quality opponent. Due to the Saints’ win in Week 1 over Tampa Bay and the blowout in the rematch Sunday night, the Saints own the tiebreaker in the NFC South, if it comes to that. NBC said the Saints’ probability of winning the division went from 39 percent before Sunday’s game to 63 percent after the win.
Sunday night was a big shift in the NFC. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers have had shaky moments, and it’s hard to trust any of them to make a Super Bowl.
The Saints sent a message Sunday night. They’re still as good as anyone, and the Buccaneers aren’t on their level yet.
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