There we sat the lot of us on a rainy Sunday evening with yet another tropical storm headed our way. It was a portent of things to come.
Some of us in Bucs jerseys, several others in Saints gear and a few impartial observers along for the ride, the host was careful to have an even number of fans on both sides.
All of us were hoping to see a competitive football game. That’s not what we got.
A New Orleans style party in Tampa Bay was the only way to fly for Sunday night’s game of the week between the Buccaneers and the Saints. Our gracious host prepared grilled chicken, deviled eggs and a shrimp and crab boil hearty enough to feed a neighborhood. The whiskey was flowing and the cigars were alit as we waited to see which team would emerge as the best in the NFC South.
An underrated Southern rivalry, it’s fair to say there’s a healthy and hospitable disdain between the two fan bases. Sunday night’s game would be for bragging rights in the division and more importantly, a leg up in the race for a home field playoff game.
Long forgotten among the NFC’s upper tier of teams, the New Orleans Saints had been flying under the radar, despite beating the Bucs in Week One. Meanwhile, the NFL’s newest media darlings were all the hype. That’s what happens when you sign players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown. Bucs brass went nuts this off-season, on a spending spree like a kid with daddy’s credit card. They got the nice car. They’re still learning how to drive it.
All that money, however, couldn’t buy the Buccaneers a victory on Sunday as they proceeded to get manhandled in every aspect of the game. It was perhaps the least competitive NFL game of the season and one of the worst losses of Tom Brady’s career. He finished game with a record-low 3.8 passer rating. New Orleans moved the ball at will, Tampa couldn’t move it a lick.
This is how lop-sided that game was. The Bucs went three-and-out their first four possessions. On their fifth, Brady threw an interception. On their sixth, they turned it over on downs. This is a team that had been able to move the ball against opponents consistently this season. Sunday, that came to an abrupt halt. Meanwhile, the Saints moved the ball at will against a once highly-touted yet now exposed Buccaneers defense. The Saints scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions.
For all intents and purposes, the game was over by halftime. At least the shrimp boil was good. It had been a while since I’d eaten enough to mask my emotions. That’s what Saints fans do so well. They graciously invite you into their home, flipping karma onto their side. They fatten you up for the kill as their football team then proceeds to run roughshod all over you. But at least they bought you dinner first.
Chalk it up to horrible game-planning, chalk it up to a bad night for Brady, chalk it up to the fact that the Saints might just be the better team. At the end of the night, the scoreboard read: Saints 38, Buccaneers 3. Despite his many rings, the Bucs quarterback wasn’t even the all-time touchdowns leader on the field that night. That honor went to the guy in the other uniform who won the game. Even though the Saints play their home games in a dome, the swampy Tampa weather fit the events of the evening to a tee.
As is the case with debilitating losses combined with a heaping portion of recency bias, Bucs critics immediately hit the panic button, perhaps rightfully so. After all, they only ran the ball four times for eight yards. That’s a sneeze for backs like Derrick Henry. They were thoroughly dominated and had their once assumed playoff position put at risk, their grasp atop the NFC South gone with the wind.
It was a rude awakening for all those who had penciled the Bucs into the Super Bowl based on the name on the back of their quarterback’s jersey. Of course, one game does not a season make. Perhaps this was exactly the humbling Brady and company needed, losing to a team that wasn’t just pieced together and has been coached by the same man for fifteen years.
While the rule of thumb in the NFL says it’s tough to beat a team three times in the same season, the Buccaneers might want to figure out a way to beat these Saints in case they meet again. Otherwise, all that shopping was for naught.