Observations from the Buccaneers’ 31-24 loss to the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans:
1. A week ago, there was much to celebrate in Tampa Bay sports. The Rays had clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2013. The Bucs had upset the defending NFC champions. Now? The Rays are in danger of getting swept out of the postseason, and the Bucs have lost ground in their division, falling to third place.
2. The Saints defensive line absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. New Orleans sacked Jameis Winston six times, the most he had been sacked since Christmas Eve 2017. Marcus Davenport, who has emerged as one of the most disruptive edge rushers in the NFL, led the way with two.
3. The Bucs held one playmaker in check (Alvin Kamara) but were torched by another (Michael Thomas). Thomas caught 11 of 13 targets for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
4. On Thomas’ second touchdown, which put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter, he forced two missed tackles. Tackling had been an area in which the Tampa Bay defense had made strides this season. “We’ve been better,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said last week. “We can still work on tackling every week, which we do every time in practice. We can wrap up a few more we’re giving away. They’re not big misses, but they’re misses to where (opponents) get 3 or 4 extra yards.”
5. Meanwhile, the Saints shut out Mike Evans. Evans had caught a pass in 65 straight games, a streak that began more than four years ago.
6. Chris Godwin maintained his 100-catch pace. He caught seven passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, though the second touchdown didn’t make a material difference in the outcome of the game. It was his seventh 100-yard game and third multi-touchdown game.
7. Carlton Davis’ ejection was a game-changer. Davis, who has been the Bucs’ best cornerback, was disqualified after his helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints tight end Jared Cook late in the second quarter. New Orleans went on to score a go-ahead touchdown and never relinquished the lead.
8. The game’s turning point: when the Saints scored a touchdown on their final possession of the first half and their first possession of the second half.
9. Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw four touchdown passes, the most he has thrown in a game in four seasons. The last quarterback to throw at least four touchdown passes and one or fewer interceptions against Tampa Bay: Mitchell Trubisky, in a 48-10 Chicago win early last season.
10. Coach Bruce Arians talked last week about wanting his players, specifically Winston, to play fearless. Fearless, the Bucs were not Sunday. They climbed back into the game when they scored a touchdown late in the third quarter that cut the Saints’ lead to 24-17. On their next possession, they gave the game right back. They began with drive with a false start and a 2-yard run on first and 15. An 11-yard pass to Bobo Wilson got them to third and 2, but they failed to convert. On fourth and 2 from the Tampa Bay 43-yard line, the Bucs chose to punt rather than go for it. The Saints answered by stringing together a 13-play, 91-yard touchdown drive.
11. New Orleans’ 91-yard drive was the longest touchdown drive Tampa Bay had surrendered since Week 13 last season.
12. Through three quarters, Winston threw 17 passes. Bucs running backs had 18 carries (19 if you count a run by receiver Scotty Miller). So much for “balance” being advantageous to the offense.
13. Tampa Bay started slow, recording only five first downs in the first half. On its first possession of the second half, it had seven (including a touchdown).
14. The Bucs offense’s 48-point outburst against the Rams last week might have been a mirage. Tampa Bay scored 28 of those points off its four takeaways. On Sunday, it scored its first touchdown after a Sean Murphy-Bunting interception gave the offense a short field.
15. There was no way that Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who was on pace to generate more than 100 pressures this season, was going to be able to maintain his historic level of production. He didn’t have a single quarterback hit or tackle for loss. Was he limited by the groin injury that kept him out of practice last week?
16. It’s hard to win at New Orleans in October. The Saints have won 14 straight games at home and haven’t lost in nine seasons.