Barring a Christmas miracle and some Week 17 magic, the Bucs will miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season after dropping to the Saints, 31-24, in New Orleans Saturday.
Once the strength of its team, the Bucs defense struggled at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Drew Brees led five straight scoring drives from the end of the second quarter to the start of the fourth, as the Saints offense ran 40 plays during that span and controlled the clock meticulously. Brees, on his way to another 5,000-yard season, threw for 299 yards Saturday with no turnovers.
Jameis Winston and the Bucs short-handed offense, meanwhile, kept its composure after a disastrous start to the third quarter but could only stay within reach for so long. After answering Saints’ scores with touchdowns of his own, Winston, down multiple starters and behind a patchwork offense line, threw his second interception with just over eight minutes left.
Winning an arms race against Brees in the dome is difficult, to say the least. Fighting from behind is next to impossible. While Winston was sharp on most throws, clawing the Bucs back in the game multiple times, the aggressive tempo eventually got the best of the 22-year old signal caller. The first pick shifted momentum, the second all but sealed it for Tampa Bay – the game and playoff hopes alike.
It’s always difficult to look for positives in a loss, especially one this devastating to postseason aspirations, but there were players who shined for the Bucs Saturday. Read the list of Most Impressive, according to PewterReport.com, and see if you agree.
WR MIKE EVANS
Despite often being under duress, Jameis Winston was able to connect with Evans seven times for 97 yards, including five hookups in the second half. Evans caught a 34-yard touchdown in single coverage against ex-Buc cornerback Sterling Moore to bring the game to 28-21 in the third quarter. Even while being interfered, the Bucs Pro Bowl receiver was able to make an adjustment and show great concentration to make the catch. Against a suspect secondary, there were high expectations for Evans and he came through.
RB JACQUIZZ RODGERS
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter made the surprise move to bench Doug Martin in favor of Rodgers. In his first start since Week 8, Rodgers ran tough for 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. His effort to get in the end zone summarized his day, which was spent running behind an injury-depleted O-Line. Down 20-6, the Bucs had to largely abandon the run in the second half, but Rodgers provided a spark Tampa Bay had been missing for the past few weeks.
CB BRENT GRIMES
When Brees finishes with just 11 incompletions it’s difficult to include a member of the secondary on Most Impressive, but Grimes had another solid outing on Saturday. Along with a diving breakup on a third-down pass early in the second quarter, forcing one of the Saints three punts, Grimes added a game-most nine solo tackles. Though Brees was efficient working the middle of the field, Grimes’ side stayed relatively quiet.
LB KWON ALEXANDER
He didn’t get 21, but Alexander’s 10 tackles on Saturday still led all defensive players. The star linebacker nearly forced another fumble to shift momentum, this time at the end of the third quarter, but it was reviewed and reversed to an incomplete pass. Still, Alexander was everywhere on the field in New Orleans.
P BRYAN ANGER
The most consistent player on the Bucs, Anger knocked three more gems inside the opponents’ 15-yard line Saturday. In the first quarter he punted 50 yards to the Saints 9-yard line, then 55 to the Saints 4-yard line in the second quarter. Though New Orleans had little trouble moving the ball offensively, its success was often in spite of bad field position. Credit Anger, the gunners and kick coverage as a whole – a strength for the Bucs all season.
Honorable Mention: Russell Shepard (three catches for 63 yards) and Lavonte David (seven tackles and a sack)