In a soul-crushing moment for Saints fans in the last minute of the third quarter, Mark Ingram had just rushed for 10 yards, dodging multiple Bucs defenders, when the ball slipped through his fingers. From that point forward, the New Orleans Saints lost focus, and that one play defined their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We lost momentum because we turned the ball over,” Dennis Allen plainly stated in a press conference after the game.
But the Saints’ failure in their second game of the season didn’t fall entirely on Ingram’s shoulders. Saints quarterback Jameis Winston was trying to build up a reliable cadre of options on offense, but ultimately his cannon of an arm left much to be desired in terms of accuracy. The offense was far from well-oiled, and ensured a defeat for the Saints, despite the defense’s best efforts.
After a thrilling finish last week in Atlanta, fans were expecting a better showing from the Saints. The Buccaneers defense was predicted to annihilate the Saints running game, forcing Winston to rely heavily on his receivers. However, it was the running game that carried the bulk of the Saints’ offensive power despite the fact that they ultimately fell to the Buccaneers 20-10.
The fact that there was not a single touchdown before the half was the only omen you needed to predict how things would go.
In their opening drive, the Saints did find a rhythm with their running game. Jameis Winston was successful finding an early groove, falling back on old reliables Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas. Tampa’s defensive pressure shaped the Saints running game, which made valiant strides with Ingram’s 30 rushing yards.
Except for a sack against Winston, the offensive line held up moderately well in the first quarter, giving Winston time to pass. That quickly dissipated throughout the game, leading to multiple sacks. Although Winston looked to Thomas, his go-to option against Atlanta, their connections were infrequent and Tampa’s defense effectively shut down the Saints passing game.
Another factor in the Saints’ defeat may have been a back injury for Winston. Both Winston and Allen dodged direct questions about the injury, but maintained that Winston was always going to play.
Winston’s tendency to hold the ball makes him more susceptible to pressure and likely to shoot passes off inaccurately. After a fairly successful drive, a Wil Lutz field goal helped the Saints take a 3-0 lead.
Ultimately, the first quarter scoreline reflected the efficiency and superiority of the Saints defense. Brady was forced to rely almost exclusively on passing because the defense was quick to shut down any attempts to run the ball.
Early on, Brady fumbled in an atypical show of nerves for a seasoned quarterback. In light of the Buccaneer’s 0-4 regular season record against the Saints the past two years, one could assume that Tom “Gray Beard” Brady (a nickname tossed around certain households [ok, maybe just mine]) was intimidated.
The second quarter started with a quick drive down the field, and Brady attempted to score the first touchdown of the game—but to no avail. On the 4th down, the Saints defense stopped the Buccaneers at New Orleans’ 9-yard line with a stunning tackle by Granderson that showcased the Saints’ true redzone spirit.
The second quarter proved rockier for the Saints’ offense. Winston attempted two ambitious passes, both of which went long by a considerable amount.
Lattimore continued the Saints’ first half defensive success, shutting down Tampa’s opening drive. His deep field coverage has been essential to the Saints for five years. And Brady’s incessant pouting only fueled the defense.
After a clean stop by the Saints defense early in the third quarter, Winston threw two massively overshot passes. The rhythm he found in the first quarter was lost. In their next drive, he seemed to pick it up momentarily with a strong series of runs. Ingram and Washington carried the ball up the field only for Ingram to commit that fateful fumble right before the end zone.
After a successful drive, Tampa’s kicker, Ryan Succop, tied the score at 3-3 with a field goal. Although this seemed like a momentary win for Tampa, the real victory came for New Orleans in the ninth minute, when the referees ruled in favor of New Orleans on a challenge. The disputed call went to the overview booth, where it was confirmed as an incomplete pass in a truly rare moment of successful review for New Orleans.
In another startling display of grievous inaccuracy from Winston, a deep pass intended for Chris Olave was intercepted in the end zone.
In true Saints fashion, the pressure of the 4th quarter drove hot-headed Lattimore to start an insane fight with 12:55 left on the clock. Gray Beard, after throwing tablets willy nilly out of frustration, reached his breaking point. The Bucs were about to punt, when usually stoic Brady got in Lattimore’s face, setting off an explosive chain reaction where both teams rushed the field. A review from New York decided that personal fouls offset each other on both sides. Additionally, Lattimore and Mike Evans—who came off the bench to defend Brady—were disqualified.
“Usually [referees] don’t get the instigator, they get the retaliator,” Allen said in the press conference after the game. “What I’d like to see is Marshon not retaliate.”
Lattimore’s absence left the Saints vulnerable in the backfield, and despite being rattled by the rest of the Saints’ defensive prowess, Brady used the momentum from the fallout of the fight to score the first touchdown of the game.
The Saints’ subsequent drive broke down with another sack and interception from Winston. Tampa took this and turned it into a field goal. On top of that, the Buccaneers converted another horrendous interception into a 67-yard run for a touchdown.
Dejected Saints fans traipsed out of the Superdome, feeling like the game was already decided against them.
With two minutes left in the game, the Saints’ attempt to recreate their trademark comeback only resulted in a final score with a ten point difference.
“The defense battled hard,” Allen said, despite this brutal defeat.
He admitted to problems with the offense and acknowledged the purely logical concept that a team who repeatedly turned over the ball cannot win.
If the Saints want to have any hope of winning their next game against the Panthers, they need to clean up their offensive strategy. Their defense is strong and consistent, but winning is impossible if they can’t make a touchdown.