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.

DEFENSIVE LINE
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

LINEBACKERS
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

SECONDARY
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

SPECIAL TEAMS
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

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

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: zshapiro12@gmail.com
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surferdudes
surferdudes
5 years ago

McDougald, we let one get away. No you didn’t, you were beat on both sides of the ball soundly. You looked like a dog chasing it’s tail out there. Brees converted 12 first downs! The only thing you let get away was a receiver I never heard of! Maybe that’s what’s wrong with this team, they think they’re better then they are. Lovie always says that, we’re better then that. Ha ha, no you’re not. Yeah Bradly, you let this one get away, like letting the 3rd, and 21 get away. You’re better then that. LoL!

seat26
seat26
5 years ago

Carter did ok, but Alexander being out for 4 games is going to hurt. He may be our best player on Defense. If we can get McCoy some help next draft this Team is going to be good. We are headed in the right direction.

jongruden
jongruden
5 years ago

Our defense needs a complete over haul with exception of our Lb’s and McCoy, I could careless if anyone returned next yr. Smith is ok at one DE position but maybe best suited for passing downs only. Sterling Moore is adequate but nothing special

scubog
scubog
Reply to  jongruden
5 years ago

I finally share your assessment oh wise one from the desert. This Defense is made up of so-so free agents and undrafted hopefuls for the most part. What can we realistically expect from this much injured collection? Hopefully Jason and the scouts can focus on defense this Draft and bring in four or five new starters. In my view the only guaranteed survivors should be McDonald, McCoy, David, Alexander and perhaps Moore. The rest, including your defensive whipping boy Gholston, may develop but for now are replaceable.

76Buc
76Buc
5 years ago

DL F; LB D; DB F.

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

Tough day at the office with only 5 starter playing from the beginning of the season. Most noticeable absences being those on the defensive line with the only starter playing hurt and crippled.
When you look at it that way, the defense didn’t play all that bad by holding the Saints to 24 points.
The offense knew the defense was all banged up and should have shown a lot more vigor.
Have to agree with Jameis when he said this one was on him.

surferdudes
surferdudes
5 years ago

You really think this one was on Jameis drdneast? To bad he couldn’t also catch that 3rd down dart he hit Dye in stride with. I guess he made a mistake deciding to punt with 4 minutes left thinking his D could get a stop even though they let Brees convert a whopping 12 3rd down trys. Yeah let’s pin this one on the rookie Q.B., not the defense that couldn’t get off the field all day, not Koetter’s sub par game plan, and certainly not Lovie, who has this team running like a well oiled machine. Don’t know why… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

I agree about Dye surferdudes, but it was only one play albeit a very critical one.
unfortunately Winston was high on a lot of his passes on Sunday and needs toit thritical 60 percent completion average on a regular basis.
As it is, everybody played a part in this loss so perhaps I shouldn’t have singled out Winston. Hope that makes you feel better.
But for the reasons I stated above, I think the defense played a fairly good game.