A few splash plays quickly fell by the wayside when Drew Brees and the Saints offense responded with a key third-down conversion. Throughout the game, third-down haunted the Bucs defense as New Orleans seemed to convert all 12 of their 17 attempts in the most critical moments of the tight contest. Even when the Bucs thought they had a stand – Kourtnei Brown’s sack in the third-quarter or Major Wright’s tackle in front of the marker – a penalty or late extension would negate their effort. The story on defense simply came down to not getting off the field. Read how each position group graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
As Gerald McCoy pointed out in the locker room after the game, Brees was getting the ball out quickly in the first half, which gave the front four little time to collapse the pocket and force his hand.
Playing injured and with a cast on his left hand, McCoy wasn’t his usual self and didn’t make his usual impact. Saints guard Tim Lelito held his own against the three-technique fairly well throughout the game, even in one-on-one situations.
There were times when the defensive line was able to bring pressure – on second-and-21 in the second quarter to force an incompletion or third-and-15 in the third quarter to get a sack – but it would all go for nothing, as Brees would convert on third-and-21 and a penalty on Howard Jones would give the Saints a new set of downs after the defenses’ biggest stand to that point.
While Will Gholston put up a solid effort against the run (five tackles), Tony McDaniel made an impact play to tackle Tim Hightower for a loss of five and Henry Melton prevented a touchdown before half by shedding a block to take down Brees, it seemed like every positive defensive swing was wiped away by a third-down conversion.
The Bucs simply could not get off the field. Eventually that wears down a defense, and their exhaustion was evident during the Saints’ four-minute, game-clinching drive. GRADE= C
Bruce Carter was under a microscope in his first start in place of arguably the Bucs’ best defensive player, and the veteran linebacker turned in a respectable performance.
While there were likely coverage issues on the opening drive – a third-and-3 conversion to tight end Ben Watson and a touchdown a few plays later – he improved as the game continued, both in coverage and against the run.
Along with eight tackles, Carter recorded a sack to end the first quarter as he burst through the “A”gap untouched. New Orleans, however, would end up converting on third-and-21 and score a TD on the drive.
Carter came up big in the fourth quarter, getting a tackle-for-loss on a second-down and pressuring Brees on a third-down blitz. But, like it seemed to go all afternoon for Tampa Bay, the veteran QB hung in the pocket and delivered to move the chains yet again.
Perhaps the most impactful player on defense for the Bucs was Lavonte David. With a game-leading 13 tackles, the outside linebacker had a few for losses and seemed to be the only guy who could make a play on third-down.
Danny Lansanah, for his part, tallied five tackles, including a couple immediate stops – once on a comeback route to Ben Watson on the first drive and again to stuff a running play – as well as a third-down stand when he stopped Marques Colston short of the marker in the fourth quarter.
The loss of Kwon Alexander clearly hurt Tampa Bay, as the front seven surrendered 85 yards to a backup running back. But take away a few third-down conversions by New Orleans and, such as the case for the entire defense, we’re looking at the linebackers performance in a different light. GRADE= B
Drew Brees quickly reminded everyone that a 4-8 team led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback always has a chance.
On Sunday the veteran added to the list of great performances against the Buccaneers, throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns while completing an impressive 31 of 41 passes and making his wide receivers look like Pro Bowlers.
Willie Snead got the best of Jude Adjei-Barimah numerous times, including a third-and-21 deep route (after Brees moved Bradley McDougald away) and a 20-yard gain on the second play of the third quarter. Meanwhile, Colston came back to life against the Bucs (like he’s done so often in his career), catching two touchdowns and a critical third-and-11 in the fourth quarter that was covered well by Alterraun Verner.
While the secondary was physical and had their moments blitzing – Major Wright, who had eight tackles, forcing an underthrown ball on a blitz in the fourth quarter and Adjei-Barimah, who had five tackles, getting a few immediate stops on screens, among other plays – it was the story of third down.
The difference between a close loss and a close win is a couple plays. Aside from third-and-21, if Banks stopped Snead short of the marker on third-and-14 before half, or if Wright didn’t allow Watson to extend and ice the game with 2:50 left, or Verner doesn’t hold on game’s final third-down, Tampa Bay possibly escapes with a victory. But they didn’t make any of those plays and, as McDougald said in the locker room, the Bucs let one get away. GRADE= D
Tampa Bay missed a ton of opportunities on Sunday, one of which falls on the shoulders of Connor Barth.
One of the NFL’s most accurate kickers, Barth is expected to hit from 47 yards out. He didn’t, however, and instead of 17-13 with six minutes left in the third quarter, it stayed a one-score deficit and New Orleans quickly marched down and extended their lead to 24-10.
As far as the return game, Bobby Rainey’s clutch return to the 33-yard line allowed Tampa Bay to capitalize on great field position and drive down for a field goal with: 54 seconds before half.
Jacob Schum, for his part, punted five times for a net average of 39 yards a punt. His first punt was the worst, going for just 36 yards to the Saints 40-yard line. GRADE= C
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org