After a heavily-injured Bucs team suffered a jarring loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football in Week 5, the upset would serve as a wake up call in following weeks as the Bucs steamrolled the Packers and Raiders in a 28-point victory in Week 6 and and a 25-point victory in Week 7.
Then in Week 8 the Bucs narrowly escaped New York with a win on Monday Night Football, sealing the game with a pass breakup from Antoine Winfield Jr. as the Giants looked to tie the game with a two-point conversion as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Now it probably isn’t the way most Bucs fans imagined that Tampa Bay would win on Monday night and it surely wasn’t the way they wanted them to, but as Bruce Arians said in his post-game press conference, they made the plays they needed to and will never apologize for a victory.
But as Tampa Bay trailed the Giants 14-6 at halftime, without an offensive touchdown to speak of in the first two quarters, it surely felt like the dreaded “trap game” that Bucs fans have become all too familiar with in recent years. In the end however, Brady had a strong second half, finding Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans in the end zone for a pair of crucial touchdown passes, while Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting came up with two clutch interceptions off of Daniel Jones that would ultimately swing the scoreboard in the Bucs’ favor.
I’m not saying that fans should necessarily be happy with this win, but these things happen in the NFL. It’s a tough league to win in, regardless of who you’re playing, and the most important result is that Tampa Bay found a way to win.
In 2019 the Kansas City Chiefs had a four-week span where they fell to an eventual 7-9 Colts team and the Texans in back-to-back weeks before bouncing back for a win over the Broncos and then losing again to the Packers in Week 8. The Chiefs were still able to finish strong and win the Super Bowl that season.
In 2018 the Patriots started 1-2 with back-to-back losses to the Jaguars and the Lions before also falling to the Dolphins in Week 14, compiling three losses to teams that would all finish below .500 on the season. The Patriots were still able to finish strong and win the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
I’m not saying the Bucs are Super Bowl-bound quite yet, but they’re certainly in the conversation, and Monday night doesn’t change that fact. Neither does their loss to Chicago in Week 5. We’ve seen how good this team can be when their defense plays strong and their offense stays healthy and out of their own way, but arguably the most important test of the Bucs’ season will come in Week 9 as they face New Orleans on Sunday Night Football.
It’s a tight Wild Card race in the NFC with the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams sitting at 5-3 while the Arizona Cardinals and Saints sit at 5-2, all nipping at the Bucs’ heels and jockeying for a spot in the playoffs. With Chicago and New Orleans both currently holding a tie-breaker over the Bucs, and a tough stretch of play upcoming for Tampa Bay with the Chiefs, Rams, Saints and Vikings all on the schedule, it’s paramount that the Bucs win their division to ensure a high seed in this year’s playoffs.
Both teams have come a long way since the Saints gashed the Bucs in their Week 1 meeting, defeating Tampa Bay 34-23 in Brady’s first career game away from New England. The Bucs have shot up power rankings across the league with huge wins over the Packers and Raiders while stumbling against Chicago. At the same time, the Saints have underwhelmed with back-to-back losses to those same Packers and Raiders while narrowly edging out one-score victories against the Lions, Chargers, Panthers and Bears.
But the Saints still have a very talented roster with an all-time great quarterback of their own in Drew Brees and All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas on track to return for Week 9. In addition, no matter how the teams have looked since Week 1, they’re still neck-and-neck at the top of a division that New Orleans has paced for the last three seasons. As strong as the Bucs have looked, the Saints are kings of the NFC South until Tampa Bay officially unseats them.
So more importantly than scraping out an ugly win against a losing team, Tampa Bay will have to put their Week 8 victory behind them and be 100 percent ready for a huge battle with the Saints. If they can overcome their nemesis on Sunday night, nobody will care about Week 8 outside of the ‘W’ it gives the Bucs in the standings.