READ ‘EM & SWEEP: Saints Bash Bucs and Brady, Take Over #1 Playoff Seed in NFC

New Orleans Saints on Twitter (Original by Mark LoMoglio)

In what might have been one of the most impressive victories in their entire 54-year franchise history, the New Orleans Saints completely dominated their division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night, as they bashed the heavily-favored Bucs and their “living legend” QB Tom Brady on the road at Raymond James Stadium by a score of 38-3.

The win was the 5th straight in a row for the Black and Gold, who in the process swept Tampa and their “Dream Team”-caliber roster in both games of their season-series against each other; while also taking over 1st place in the NFC South Division as well as the #1 overall Playoff seed in the NFC.

New Orleans will host their long-time NFC rivals the San Francisco 49ers, at home in the Superdome next Sunday.

(Image Credit: New Orleans Saints on Twitter)

The (6-2) Saints jumped all over the (6-3) Buccaneers from the very beginning of the contest, in an absolute dominant performance — particularly on the defensive side of the ball — in what might that much-maligned unit’s best performance overall on that side of the ball in the entire 14-plus years of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.

The Saints pass rush had its best game of the season by far, as they hit, hurried, and harassed the 43-year old Brady early and often, finishing with 3 sacks, 9 QB “hits”, and forcing him into throwing an uncharacteristic 3 interceptions. Brady finished a sub-par 22-for-38, for 209-yards passing and zero TD passes.

Brady has now passed for 20 TD’s and 7 interceptions so far through Tampa’s first 9 games of this current 2020 NFL Season, but amazingly it’s the Saints and their previously struggling but now suddenly improving defensive secondary that has made 5 of those interceptions.

Last night was actually the former 6-time Super Bowl championship-winning Brady’s first game with 3 or more interceptions for the first time in almost an entire decade (2011 Season) dating back to his notable era spent with the New England Patriots.

Perhaps even worse was the fact that the Saints defensive Front 7 absolutely “stuffed” the Bucs running game, and limited RB’s Ronald Jones and former LSU All-American Leonard Fournette to only an NFL-record low 8 total yards on 5  rushing attempts.

“(You’ve got to) give New Orleans credit,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said to reporters after the game’s conclusion. “They kicked our ass in every phase.”

In fact, it was so one-sided that the Black and Gold piled up 420 yards of offense on the evening, compared to less than 200 total yards (194) for the Bucs. The Saints eventually scored on 5 out of their first 6 possessions to build a 31-0 halftime lead, and essentially never looked back as they were able to ride the wave of momentum all night long.

Tampa Bay was able to avoid getting shut out completely on the scoreboard with a 48-yard field goal by Bucs kicker Ryan Succop with 5:52 remaining in the contest.

Last night’s final 38-3 margin by the game’s end is now actually the worst loss of Brady’s 21 total seasons (a grand total of 335 games) as an NFL starting QB, which previously had been a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills more than 17 years ago during the 2003 NFL Season. Additionally, Brady was swept by a division opponent in a season for the first time ever in his notable career.

Brees had one of his best games of the season by far, as he passed for 222 yards and 4 TD’s and essentially “out-dueled” his future NFL Hall of Fame counterpart in every aspect.

Brees now leads the all-time head-to-head match-ups between himself and Brady by a tally of 5 to 2, dating all the way back to their time in college together in the Big 10 Conference during the late 1990’s, when Brees was at Purdue University and Brady was at the University of Michigan.

“We’ve been playing against each other for 22 years,” Brees said to the media in his post-game interview via Zoom teleconference. “So there’s obviously a lot of respect there. Throughout our careers, I think what we just say is just how grateful we are to have the opportunity to play this great game, to have played as long as we’ve played and played with so many great teams, great coaches, great players. So just thankful for that.”

“(And) he had all his weapons on the field, too. (At first), I thought it was going to be one of those games.”

Brees then noted how gratifying that it was to get his full complement of wide receivers back, after several of them returned to the starting line-up; most notably his #1 WR and All-Pro Michael Thomas and veteran Emmanuel Sanders. Brees and (and his back-ups) ultimately completed passes to an incredible total of 12 different pass-catchers on the night.

Brees tossed TD passes to wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Sanders, and then managed to also throw another two of them to tight ends Adam Trautman and Josh Hill, both of whom were wide-open and virtually uncovered in the end zone by the normally stout Tampa defensive unit.

Thomas started and played in his first game since the previous match-up against Tampa at the Superdome in the Season Opener in September, after injuries and a team disciplinary issue (a much-publicized fight during a practice with fellow teammate and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson), and had five catches for 51 yards.

Meanwhile, superstar #1 RB Alvin Kamara added a rushing touchdown, and all-purpose offensive “weapon” Taysom Hill easily had his best game of the season thus far as well; as he made major contributions in all phases of the offensive attack as a passer, runner and receiver.

“Tonight it was good to get everybody back, get them back in the mix,” Brees said. “I think we slowly did that. We wanted to spread the ball around. We wanted to play complementary football.”

Conversely, it was the legendary Brady and the Bucs who clearly did not.

“I certainly have to play a lot better,” Brady said to the Tampa local media afterwards . “Turning the ball over against a good team never helps. We just didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing. Everyone’s got to do a lot better and it starts with me.”

Bottom line: it was an ass-whipping of epic proportions, and one that now could propel this Saints team to much greater heights down the line, following their notable at-times “shaky” and unimpressive start to the early part of their season.

New Orleans Saints on Twitter (Original by Mark LoMoglio)

Not only did the Black and Gold win their 5th straight game in a row, but perhaps more importantly New Orleans now finds itself with a tie-breaker advantage within the NFC South Division after beating Tampa back in Week #1.

The Saints now have a half-game lead in the NFC South race, but basically it’s a game and a half lead — since now that they’ve swept Tampa in the season series, they would actually win the division if the teams finished tied in the final season win-loss standings.

But all of the numbers and impressive statistics from last night aside, the biggest takeaway this morning is that the Saints now have a golden opportunity in front of them to not only win a fourth straight division title; but also have a better-than-average shot to earn the ever-important #1 overall Playoff seed in the NFC.

Even in this less-than-normal 2020 NFL Season that’s been impacted directly by the effects of the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic, earning that #1 overall seed could give them a big-time advantage come Playoff-time.

And with Super Bowl LV (55) set to take place in early February at the same stadium that the Saints had their very best overall team performance of the entire season last night in front of a stunned National Television audience watching on from home, it’s one that potentially could become one of the greater ironies within the League over the course of the past several seasons.

Despite their disconcerting start to the season that at initially at first was extremely worrisome for both themselves as well as many Who Dat fans across the country, the Black and Gold’s ultimate goal of winning a World Championship before Brees retires, is seemingly now back on track.

For the lack of a better term:  “read ’em and sweep”….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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