Key Decision #1: (NO leads 14-7 / 1st & 10 NO 12/ 14:14 Q2)
- New Orleans took an early 14-0 lead in this game, but the Buccaneers fought back to close to one possession. This series would be another opportunity for the Saints to again take a two-possession lead, and when you’re on the road, keeping the home crowd quiet is important – two-possession leads tends to keep them in their seats with their mouths closed.
- The Saints made one first down, and then faced a favorable 2nd & 4 from their own 28. 2nd & 4 for Saints Head Coach Sean Payton typically is a very difficult down to defend; his entire playbook is open at this point. The Buccaneers forced an incompletion. Now it was 3rd & 4. New Orleans chose to target WR Ted Ginn for the first time all game, and he has been battling some nicks. Tampa Bay forced another incompletion and a punt. The Buccaneers then took the next possession for a TD and closed to 14-13 (missed PAT).
Key Decision #2: (NO leads 14-13 / 4th & 5 TB 30 / 2:39 Q2)
- New Orleans was presented with a 47-yard FG attempt and lined up to take it; leading 17-13 on the road isn’t a bad option. However, the Saints had other plans. They tried to fake the FG and had K Will Lutz attempt to run for the five yards; it wasn’t successful. Frankly, Lutz didn’t appear to have the necessary athleticism to run the distance required.
Key Decision #3: (NO lead 14-13 / 1st & 10 NO 42 / 1:50 Q2)
- New Orleans had another opportunity to extend their lead before halftime, and on a short field with two timeouts left. Typically, the Saints would cash this opportunity for a minimum of three points. However, Tampa Bay’s defense stifled the Saints yet again. Sean Payton could not have been happy with how this half ended.
Key Decision #4: (NO lead 14-13/ 1st & 10 NO 32 / 14:55 Q3)
- The Saints received the 2nd half kickoff and had a third chance to extend their lead. They were moving the ball well until a critical holding penalty caused a 2nd and long situation. They narrowed it to a 3rd & 3, but the Bucs sacked Brees for a seven yard loss while rushing only three. The Saints failed to score off of three consecutive short fields.
- Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter deserves credit for the Bucs’ play on this day; they played hard and with resilience in all three phases. They played from behind most of the day. Koetter’s work today showed that even when a team is a bit short handed, a head coach can overcome a lot if the right judgments are made during the game. In this game, Tampa Bay’s defense did a stellar job from the end of the 1st half to the beginning of the 3rd quarter to keep the game close.
- The Saints played to win this game even though they had clinched a playoff spot last week. However, we see offensive line breakdowns (e.g., Brees should rarely be sacked with just a three-man rush) and continued weakness on 3rd down. Payton suffers from a lack of TE talent, and that limits his playbook. Even though the Saints lost, we expect Payton to use this game as a teachable moment for their opening round playoff game and fully expect the Saints to be much sharper.