By Christopher Taylor, with mentor Ro Brown.
Week 1 is underway and the Saints are taking on a division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Surprisingly, TommyLee Lewis was able to win the starting return job and received the first kickoff of the 2018-19 season. Lee starts off his season with a 26-yard return. His return helped start off the Saints’ dominating drive. Only running 6 plays, special teamer Taysom Hill handed the ball off to last year’s offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara, for a 5-yd touchdown. Being a threat to run himself, Hill subbed in to throw off the Buccaneers’ defense.
Lewis would take a knee on his second return, after the Bucs were able to score in only 4 plays, outdoing the Saints previous drive of 6 plays.
The Saints following possession would end in a 36-yd field goal by kicker Will Lutz, giving the Saints a 10-7 lead.
On Lewis’ third return of the season it ended with a 24-yard return, receiving key blocks from Taysom Hill and Arthur Maulet. The third year wide receiver proved that his return game was to be positive for the Saints; when was able to get out of the endzone on the kickoff, the Saints were able to take advantage and score. Lewis would take a knee on his fourth return.
Special Teams ace, Chris Banjo, got his first tackle on Saints’ punter Thomas Morstead’s 56-yd punt. Banjo held the Bucs returner to only a 2-yd return]
On Lewis’ final return of the first half he was held to 19-yards. Following this return, the Saints’ drive would be stopped quickly by Justin Evans’ 34-yd scoop-and-score, giving the Bucs a 14-point lead over the Saints.
With lots of lackadaisical defense on both sides, the two teams combined for 55 first half points, a 31-24 Tampa Bay advantage. On each Saints’ scoring drive kick return yardage proved to have a huge impact. Each point-producing possession started at the 29, 25 and 26 yard lines.
After the Saints were forced to punt on their first drive of the second half, Justin Hardee was able hold the Bucs to a 1-yd return at their own 25-yd line. This short punt return helped out the Saints’ defense, forcing the Bucs to punt for the first and only time in the game.
In this divisional matchup against the Bucs, the Saints showed flashes of a powerful offense, scoring on 6 of 11 drives. TommyLee Lewis was able to show why that “hidden yardage” is very important, finishing with an average of 23-yards per return. The Northern Illinois product proved why he should have a spot on this team.
Coverage players Banjo, Hardee, Maulet all continued to impact the special teams. Banjo and Hardee both had two tackles on special teams and Maulet came up with some key blocks to help out Lewis on his returns.
Two-point conversions proved key, one allowing the Saints the opportunity to pull within 8 points toward the end of the game. In the end, the Saints’ defense wasn’t able to stop the Buccaneers. The Saints would fall short and take a tough loss in the season opener, 48-40.
The Saints and Bucs combined to score 88 points, making this the highest scoring opening week game of the Super Bowl era. The Saints have now lost five straight season openers.
Following the loss Coach Sean Payton says confidently, “We’ve had years where we’ve fell down and bounced back; it’s week 1.”
Stay tuned next week for more JRNOLA coverage.