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FAB 1. The Rise Of The Bucs, The Fall Of The Saints
The Saints are no longer the bully in the NFC South. The Bucs put them on notice that there was a shift of power within the division on January 17.
A convincing, 30-20 win at New Orleans not only ended the Bucs’ five-game losing streak at the hands of the Saints. It also ended the Drew Brees era in the NFL. Tampa Bay safety Mike Edwards picked off Brees’ last pass and sent one of the biggest Buc-killers of all time into retirement.
The defending Super Bowl champion Bucs are favored to win the NFC South this year and the process of dethroning the Saints has already begun.
New Orleans had an impressive four-year run of dominance in the division with an 11-5 record in 2017, followed by a pair of 13-3 records the next two seasons. The Saints finished 12-4 last year, a game ahead of the Bucs and their 11-5 record.
Head coach Sean Payton tried desperately to get back to the Super Bowl after winning it in 2009, but the Saints fell short. A devastating, last-second loss in the 2017 divisional playoffs to Minnesota was followed by a controversial overtime loss to the L.A. Rams in the NFC Championship Game the next year. A controversial overtime wild card loss to Minnesota in 2019 was followed by a loss in the divisional round to the Bucs last year.
What’s made these postseason losses so difficult to swallow in the Big Easy is the fact that the last three have come at home. Maybe the Saints should spare their fans and not make the playoffs for a few years to let them recover?
Am I kidding? Well, kind of.
welcome to saints training camp. QB1 retired, WR1 is hurt, WR3 is probably suspended, TE1 and TE2 are gone, DT1 is suspended, DT2 and DT3 are gone, CB1 might get suspended, CB2 is gone, and we don’t have a kicker. but we do have two punters
Does this sound like the Saints will be contending for the NFC South title in 2021? It doesn’t to me.
Let’s take a look at what has transpired to the Saints since losing to the Bucs in the playoffs and losing Brees to retirement.
New Orleans will either have turnover-machine Jameis Winston as the starting quarterback or Taysom Hill, who has been Payton’s pet project over the last couple of years. The 30-year old run-pass QB is 3-1 as a starter. Winston is 28-42 as a starter in the NFL with the vast majorities of those starts coming from five years in Tampa Bay.
The problem New Orleans has is finding weapons for either Winston or Hill to throw to at the start of the season.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today
The Saints recently learned that Pro Bowl receiver Michael Thomas will not be available for the first month or two of the season following offseason ankle surgery. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have gone on record wishing Thomas had undergone surgery earlier in the offseason.
Now it’s been reported that Saints receiver Deonte Harris had a previously undisclosed DUI arrest on July 16. As Pro Football Talk reports, DUI arrests typically result in a two-game suspension.
This comes on the heels of star defensive tackle David Onyemata, who will be suspended for the first six games of the season for PED usage. New Orleans traded away nose tackle Malcolm Brown for salary cap reasons.
Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore is also facing a possible NFL suspension due to a March arrest in Ohio in which he was charged with a fourth-degree felony for possessing a stolen handgun.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, a former Saints first-round pick, signed with the New York Jets this offseason because the cap-strapped Saints couldn’t afford to keep him. Pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, who led the Saints with 13.5 sacks last year, signed with Cincinnati because New Orleans didn’t have the cap room to keep him.
Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins left via free agency for Tennessee for the same reason. Starting receiver Emanuel Sanders was cut loose and starting linebacker Alex Anzalone is now in Detroit. Veteran reserve linebacker Kwon Alexander has also departed.
New Orleans is also at a crossroads with 30-year old Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, whose contract is set to expire at season’s end.
The Saints are already over the 2022 salary cap by $37.4 million, according to OverTheCap.com. Part of that is eating $11 million of dead cap room from Brees’ retirement.
There isn’t a pretty picture to be painted in New Orleans this season or in the immediate future unless Winston or Hill plays at an incredibly high level. Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara can only do so much.
Saints QBs Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston – Photo by: USA Today
New Orleans opens up at home against Green Bay before traveling to Carolina and New England with a home game against the New York Giants before a trip to Washington, followed by the bye week.
The Saints won’t play the Bucs until hosting them in New Orleans in Week 8 on Halloween. Then the rematch takes place in Tampa Bay in Week 15 on December 19. The Saints will need to weather the early storm of injured playmakers and suspended stars to have any chance of contending for the NFC South title.
But chances are the Bucs will be in firm control over the division by Halloween.
That’s a scary thought for the Saints, who are used NFC South supremacy.
FAB 2. Brady’s Super Bowl Encores Revisited
It might seem a bit unfair to compare Tom Brady’s past Super Bowl success with New England with his championship in Tampa Bay last year. The Patriots and Bucs are two different organizations with two different coaching staffs and two different vibes.
Yet Brady was a big catalyst for both franchise’s Super Bowl success. His 20-year career in New England speaks for itself. It’s legendary, first-ballot Hall of Fame stuff. Yet Brady’s stellar play was instrumental in Tampa Bay’s 11-5 regular season record, and the team’s franchise-record eight-game winning streak.
The fact that Brady threw 40 touchdown passes in his first year in Tampa Bay without the benefit of an offseason or a preseason is quite remarkable – especially at age 43. It’s the second-most touchdown passes he’s ever thrown in a season behind his 50-TD campaign in 2007 with the Patriots.
Patriots RB James White and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
So given the fact that both the Patriots and Bucs won Super Bowls because of Brady’s brilliance, let’s take a look at how his teams fared the year after a Super Bowl appearance and see if we can draw any meaningful conclusions.
Won Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001 with an 11-5 record Finished 9-7 in 2002 and didn’t make the playoffs Analysis: Brady was still a young starter at the time, and this was the only season that he played in in which New England didn’t qualify for the postseason.
Won Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003 with a 14-2 record Finished 14-2 in 2004 and won the Super Bowl Analysis: Brady and the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls for the first time and and kicked off the talk of New England becoming a dynasty.
Won Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004 with a 14-2 record Finished 10-6 in 2005 and made the playoffs Analysis: The Patriots fell off a bit a year after winning their third Super Bowl, but still won the division.
Lost Super Bowl XLII in 2007 with a 16-0 record Finished 11-5 in 2008 and didn’t make the playoffs Analysis: After a heartbreaking loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl to spoil a perfect season, Brady injured his knee in the season opener at Kansas City and was out for the year. Despite an 11-5 record, Matt Cassel couldn’t get New England into the playoffs.
Lost Super Bowl XLVI in 2011 with a 13-3 record Finished 12-4 in 2012 and made the playoffs Analysis: People forget that the Patriots went 10 years between Super Bowl championships from 2005-14. After losing to the Giants again, Brady and the Patriots still rebounded with a 12-4 record.
Won Super Bowl XLIX in 2014 with a 12-4 record Finished 12-4 in 2015 and made the playoffs Analysis: After a decade drought, the Patriots finally won another Super Bowl. The followed it up with another 12-4 season the next year.
Won Super Bowl LI in 2016 with a 14-2 record Finished 13-3 in 2017 and lost the Super Bowl Analysis: Brady’s fifth Super Bowl title came in 2016 in dramatic fashion, coming back from a 28-3 deficit to beat Atlanta in overtime. The Patriots actually made the Super Bowl again before losing to Philadelphia.
Lost Super Bowl LII in 2017 with a 13-3 record Finished 12-4 in 2018 and won the Super Bowl Analysis: Brady lost three Super Bowls – the first two to Eli Manning, but also one to Nick Foles to spoil a repeat bid for the Patriots. This one stung more than most for Brady, I’m sure.
Patriots Dont’a Hightower and Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Won Super Bowl LIII in 2018 with an 11-5 record Finished 12-4 in 2019 and made the playoffs Analysis: While Brady didn’t get his second repeat, he did make the Super Bowl in three consecutive years and won his sixth title in his ninth championship game. The Patriots didn’t make a fourth straight Super Bowl, but went 12-4 the next year before an upset loss at home in the wild card round to Tennessee.
So what can we glean from this trip down memory lane? Brady’s teams do very well the next year and there is no letdown – no missed playoffs. That’s certainly been the case the last five Super Bowl appearances. I would expect nothing less from the Brady-led Buccaneers in 2021.
FAB 3. 5 Bucs Camp Standouts So Far
Bucs training camp has begun and there have already been some standout performances worth talking about. Here are five Bucs players that not only stood out to me, but also to the team sources I probed for their opinions.
OLB Joe Tryon
The Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year is making a tremendous first impression. Without the pressure to start right away due to the fact the Bucs have Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, Tryon can come in and just be a designated pass rusher as a rookie and take advantage of fatigued tackles in the second half with his fresh legs. Tryon already has the look of a starter. By that I mean he looks the part. He’s big, long, strong and quick off the ball. He’s going up against two very good tackles in Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith and he’s holding his own. Battling those two will only get Tryon better in a hurry.
CB Carlton Davis III
Davis emerged as a shutdown cornerback last year and led the Bucs with a career-high four interceptions. Was that an aberration or a sign of things to come? Davis didn’t have any picks in practice the first week, and dropped one against Tom Brady while covering Scotty Miller. But his coverage has been solid on a consistent basis. Davis is full of confidence and ready to embark on his contract year with tremendous vigor. Expect a big contract extension coming his way in 2022.
CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It all makes sense now. Murphy-Bunting’s slow start to the 2020 campaign was due to injuries. He battled a groin and ankle injuries last year, in addition to two dislocated thumbs. Last year the former second-round pick didn’t look like the guy who had three interceptions to lead the team as a rookie in 2019. But once he was healthier in the playoffs the playmaking SMB re-emerged, as he recorded three interceptions in three straight postseason games. It looks like Murphy-Bunting is ready to continue his hot play. He’s already had one pick in camp and his coverage has been as tight as it’s ever been, especially in the slot.
FS Mike Edwards
Edwards has received more playing time than even he expected due to the absence of Jordan Whitehead and even Antoine Winfield, Jr. for a day. But Edwards has earned it. He was a playmaker last year as a super sub at safety and he’s been incredibly solid in coverage without many – if any – mental errors. You could see Edwards coming on strong at the end of training camp last year, but this year he just seems to have put it all together after his great play during the 2020 campaign. Edwards has arrived as a starting-caliber safety.
WR Jaelon Darden
I’m including Darden – with a caveat. The rookie receiver has obviously impressed enough to be included with the starters and vets on field one during the first week of practice. He made some spectacular catches and looked great separating from some of the Bucs’ best defensive backs. However, Darden had a false start, some drops and didn’t finish his routes a few times. He’s obviously a work in progress and making more mistakes than Bruce Arians or anyone would like – but that’s what camp is for. This is where mistakes should be made and learned from. But the talent to be special is there.
FAB 4. Fun Bucs Preseason Ahead
This is my 26th year covering the Bucs and I’ll admit that training camp has lost its luster.
First of all, camp isn’t what it used to be. I remember the two-a-days under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden were the players wore full pads almost all the time and there was contact galore. Those practices were fun to watch and cover – and way more eventful.
These practices in the era of the modern day Collective Bargaining Agreement are nothing more than glorified OTAs. It’s flag football until the pads come on.
Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: USA Today
Over the last decade I’ve been ready to hit the fast forward button on camp and ready for the preseason after just a day or two of practice. Then once the first preseason game is played, I’m already done with it and ready to just fast forward to the regular season.
But this preseason might actually be fun and worth watching – and not just to see Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion starters. No, this preseason will be fun for two different reasons.
First, it’s only three games. The league did the right thing in eliminating a boring, needless exhibition game in favor of a 17th regular season game. Of course this is setting the stage for an eventual 18-game regular season with two preseason games. I’m in favor of that, too. More meaningful football and less meaningless football? I’m all for it.
Second, without a preseason last year there are several young Bucs over the last two draft classes that need to play and get some experience and seasoning. I’m not referring to guys like right tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. Those guys are emerging stars. I’m talking about players like running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receiver Tyler Johnson, defensive tackle Khalil Davis from last year’s class, in addition to this year’s draft class.
It’s going to be fun to see outside linebacker Joe Tryon and Anthony Nelson team up to rush the passer together. Nelson has yet to play in a preseason game and could really use as many reps as he can get entering his third season. Tryon looks every bit like a first-rounder. And it would be fun to see young edge rushers Cam Gill and Quinton Bell get plenty of snaps right behind them, too.
Seeing rookie QB Kyle Trask, this year’s second-round pick, get several series in August and hand the ball off to Vaughn and throw the ball to Johnson, rookie Jaelon Darden and a trio of talented reserve tight ends in Tanner Hudson, Codey McElroy and Jerell Adams will also be interesting.
There are even several intriguing, young offensive linemen worth watching, too. Guys like future starting center Robert Hainsey and guards Aaron Stinnie, John Molchon, Sadarius Hutcherson and Nick Leverett.
Who’s excited to watch young guards in meaningless August games? This guy.
Bring on the preseason. This one is going to be more fun than years past mostly thanks to such a deep, talented Bucs roster.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BRADY’S RING SPEECH SPEAKS VOLUMES: If you haven’t watched Tom Brady’s speech from the Bucs’ Super Bowl ring ceremony, click the link below. It’s well worth your time. And listen to Brady recall the story of where he came up with the notion that the next ring is his favorite ring.
• BRADY STILL ON TOP: Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was atop the NFLPA’s merchandise sales at the end of the 2020 season and Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV championship in February. Nothing has changed since that point with Brady’s Bucs gear still the league’s top seller. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is also in the Top 10 and wide receiver Mike Evans and linebacker Devin White also crack the Top 50.
Tom Brady once again tops the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales list, based on sales of all officially licensed NFL player merchandise results from March 1 to May 31. pic.twitter.com/ld11JLdy1y
• BUCS TRAINING CAMP PREVIEWS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week in the offseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless there is a special event.
Bucs training camp starts on Sunday, July 25 and the Pewter Reporters analyzed the roster as Tampa Bay heads to camp on this week’s episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast on our YouTube channel. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Scott Reynolds and Matt Matera break down the first two days of Bucs practice and are joined by special guest Washington head coach Jimmy Lake to analyze Bucs defensive linemen Joe Tryon, Vita Vea and Benning Potoa’e – all of whom played for Lake and the Huskies.
Matera and J.C. Allen break down Tuesday’s training camp practice and provide an update on the return of Antonio Brown.
Reynolds and Matera are back on Wednesday to examine the play of the Bucs’ backups as several veteran starters had the day off of practice.
Thursday’s show featured Matera and Allen discussing which Bucs were standouts and sleepers during the first week of training camp.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• DAMON’S LOVE FOR BRADY IS REAL: On Wednesday Pewter Report reported on the fact that Hollywood star and Boston area native Matt Damon is a huge Tom Brady fan. In fact, he’s such a Brady fan that he’s even switched his allegiance from the Patriots to the Bucs. Damon and Brady have been friendly for years, and even took part in a comedy skit together on the Jimmy Kimmel Show a few years ago.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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