TAMPA — The biggest play in Saints' 28-14 victory against the Bucs on Sunday was made by a quarterback. And it wasn't Drew Brees.
When third-stringer Taysom Hill, lining up on special teams, busted through the line and blocked a Tampa Bay punt in the second half, it changed the momentum of the game and did something even more significant.
It ended the Bucs season.
Thanks for coming. Drive safely. See ya next year.
Sure, there are still three games left. And even before Sunday's second-half collapse, the odds of Tampa Bay making the postseason weren't great. Then again, for a second there, with the Bucs leading 14-3 and dominating the Saints, it looked like Tampa Bay was going to extend its win streak to three games and keep those playoff hopes alive.
Then came Hill's blocked punt.
"Obviously, that blocked punt hurt us,'' Bucs tight end Cam Brate said, "and it kind of swung the momentum around for them.''
It did more than that. It snuffed out all the feel-good vibes of the past couple of weeks, when the Bucs were just starting to crawl out of its hole. It all but eliminated the Bucs from playoff contention.
And it put the future of the organization very much in doubt.
Here we go again. Now everything is back on the table.
Dirk Kotter's tenure as head coach. Jason Licht's time as general manager. The Jameis Winston era at quarterback. It's all up in the air as another crummy season limps to an end.
Draft position and possible firings. That's all that's left this season because of a game that pretty much epitomizes the same ol' Bucs.
A billion penalties. The kicker (ugh, the kicker!) missing two field goals. Teammates being separated while yelling at one another. No running game. Dropping passes. A quarterback completing less than half his passes. Blowing an 11-point halftime lead.
This is what a losing team looks like. This is what a season slipping away looks like.
Once you realize the regular season is done, all that's left is looking to the offseason.
Will Koetter return next season? Sunday's loss guarantees the Bucs will not finish with a winning record. With road games left against Baltimore and Dallas, this season has a 6-10 feel about it and it's hard to imagine Koetter coming back after that.
Licht? Same deal.
Even Winston will be under siege, pretty much like he was Sunday when the offensive line decided to take the week off.
The thing is, at halftime Sunday, the critics were being held at bay because it looked as if the Bucs had figured things out.
Life was beautiful.
No one was calling for Koetter's job. No one was criticizing Licht's bad drafts. No one was running Winston out of town.
Then came the blocked punt and the inevitable collapse.
When Sunday's loss was complete, and life had been sucked out of Raymond James Stadium, attention immediately turned to Koetter, Licht and Winston. The vultures started circling again. For good reason, too.
You couldn't help but question Koetter. You couldn't help but notice all the holes left unfilled by Licht. You couldn't help but ask if Winston has what it takes to be a really good quarterback. Winston protected the ball except for a meaningless late interception, but he didn't make very many plays either.
When you add that all up, it's a heck of a place to be, not knowing if your head coach is smart enough, if your GM is shrewd enough and if your quarterback is good enough. If you're not sure about the three most important people in the organization, where's the hope? What do you hang your hat on? What makes you believe things are getting any better?
This Bucs team was supposed to be on the upswing. It was supposed to be heading in the right direction. You could feel that the past couple of weeks.
Not anymore. Not after Sunday. They fooled us into thinking they were good and had a chance.
But that chance is gone. This is going to be 11 years without a postseason appearance. This is not a good football team.
What else is new?
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones