The Bucs made you hold your breath right until the very end Sunday. But unlike last season — when they squandered six fourth-quarter leads — you exhaled and felt relief, maybe even joy, instead of resignation as the defense thwarted the Saints' comeback try.
Today, as the Bucs (1-1) stand at .500 for the first time after a game since Dec. 2, 2012, the sun shines a little brighter, the air feels a little cleaner, the clouds look a little fluffier. Oh, what a win in the National Football League can do. For a moment, it can help you forget about wretched, horrible things like fumbles on back-to-back drives or penalties in the double digits.
To be sure, there's a lot of good in the 26-19 victory over the Saints, such as how the Bucs bounced back after the Titans trounced them in the season opener (they're not so bad after all!), how a composed Jameis Winston flashed a strong arm (he's not so bad after all!) and how Lovie Smith's defense frustrated Drew Brees all afternoon (he shouldn't be fired after all!).
Then there's the fact that the Bucs snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Saints. And they did so in New Orleans, where they hadn't won since Jan. 2, 2011. So, go ahead. Celebrate this one. Savor it like a FULL ON DOUBLE RAINBOW.
With apologies to Yosemitebear, a double display of the color spectrum might pale in comparison to the stretch over the second and third quarters in which the Bucs scored on four consecutive drives (touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal). Some perspective: Last season, they couldn't produce four TOTAL scoring drives in 12 games.
During this stretch, Winston withstood pressure, exposed the Saints secondary and made throws Brees struggled to execute. Let's review some of the game-changers.
Situation: Saints lead 7-3, Bucs ball, first-and-15 at New Orleans 38-yard line, 0:23 remaining in the second quarter
The Bucs line up with four wide receivers, who each run a vertical route. The Saints counter with one safety deep and rush six defenders, which leaves each receiver in one-on-one coverage. Despite the pressure, Winston stays in the pocket and fires at Louis Murphy as soon as he makes his cut inside against rookie Damien Swann, a fifth-round draft pick.
The 23-yard pickup puts the Bucs within striking distance of a go-ahead touchdown, which they score on the next play when Winston lofts a pass to Vincent Jackson over two defenders.
The touchdown boosts the Bucs' chances of winning to 41.5 percent from 19.5 percent when they started the drive at their own 37-yard line, according to Pro Football Reference.
Situation: Bucs lead 10-7, Bucs ball, second-and-7 at Tampa Bay 37-yard line, 13:54 remaining in the third quarter
Like the Murphy pass above, Winston anticipates where Jackson will be as he crosses the field and delivers a strike.
On the next play, Winston airs it out more than 40 yards toward Murphy in the end zone. Murphy beats cornerback Brandon Browner, who makes a desperate dive to break up the pass and is flagged for interference.
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Winston caps the drive with a touchdown run from the 1-yard line to give the Bucs a 17-7 lead and increase their win probability to 71.8 percent. The last time the Bucs scored on their first possession of the second half? Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Situation: Bucs lead 17-7, Saints ball, first and 10 at New Orleans 18-yard line, 12:58 remaining in the third quarter
Brees often seemed imprecise, throwing over receivers, just short of them or behind them. Sometimes, a defender entered his throwing lane and tipped a pass just before it reached the receiver, as linebacker Lavonte David did on Brees' first attempt of the second half.
Initially, David bites on the play-action fake, but he recovers and races 12 yards downfield to knock away a pass intended for Marques Colston.
Four plays later, Brees rolls out to his right and throws a wobbly pass nearly 40 yards downfield to Brandin Cooks. Not only is the ball underthrown, but cornerback Alterraun Verner gets away with pushing Cooks as it approaches. It's an easy interception for safety Chris Conte, and the Saints' chances of winning slip further, to 18.8 percent.
Out of seven passes targeted 20 or more yards downfield, Brees completed just one, a 22-yard pass over the middle to Brandon Coleman in the first quarter. Winston, on the other hand, completed four of six deep pass attempts, including a 54-yarder — off one foot — to Murphy about seven minutes after Brees' interception.
An impressive pass, but when Winston scrambles to his right next week, he might find J.J. Watt there ready to introduce himself.
Thomas Bassinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.