New Orleans Saints fans will never forget last season’s 38-3 drubbing of Tampa Bay in their stadium on Sunday Night Football. Drew Brees and the defense helped the Saints make the ultimate statement on their way to winning the NFC South.
But that was then. The Saints couldn’t possibly sweep Tom Brady (in the regular season) two years in a row?
2021 is a different season, after all. Brees is retired, now sitting comfortably as an NBC studio analyst, the Bucs are on the verge of clinching the division, and the Saints are clinging to wild-card hopes with an injury-riddled roster.
Wait just a minute.
We should have known the second THIS happened pregame that we were in for a special night.
“I will not make the mistake that all of you are making right now. I’m taking the Saints,” Brees said with a smile in his pregame pick.
In Drew we trust. Or more accurately, in the Saints defense we trust.
DOMINATION FROM THE FIRST SNAP
The Bucs came into Sunday night averaging 31.5 points per game offensively, but when Marshon Lattimore almost intercepted Tom Brady’s first pass, we were off and running.
Tampa Bay didn’t reach the Saints’ red zone. Closest they got in 73 plays was the Saints’ 21. In fact, they ran just 3 plays all night inside the Saints’ 35-yard line. This was the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense & total offense — with their first opportunity to clinch the NFC South.
Did we mention Sean Payton was out with COVID-19? Yea, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen gave a pretty darn good head coaching audition. The Saints deliver some gritty performances when (almost) no one believes in them.
A SHUTOUT FOR THE AGES
This has been an up-and-down season for the Saints, and by extension the Who Dat Nation. We’ve had Hurricane Ida, a 38-3 throttling of Aaron Rodgers & Green Bay in Week 1, Jameis Winston’s season-ending ACL tear Oct. 31, a five-game losing streak, and now an ultra-satisfying sweep of Tampa Bay.
The Bucs couldn’t even find the scoreboard in Sunday night’s 9-0 loss. The closest they got was a missed field goal and a Brady fumble, recovered by Lattimore. The Saints sacked Brady four times, and CJ Gardner-Johnson had a late interception.
Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Demario Davis, Gardner-Johnson, Lattimore, everyone came to play on a night when the Saints had to win to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive.
Seeing Brady frustrated and downright flummoxed all night was a thing of beauty. Brady hadn’t been shut out in 15 years.
I was so proud of the defense’s energy and emotion. The Saints needed it, because we can’t ignore the fact that their offense mustered only three field goals (a victory for their kicking woes, but no one likes to see 0-for-2 in the red zone or 3-for-16 on third downs).
Now we have to ask ourselves how the Saints can build on this improbable win.
Last time the Saints beat the Bucs when Jameis Winston went down, they went on to lose five in a row. There’s no time for that now. With three regular season games left, the formula is pretty simple for what the Saints have to do.
Beat the Dolphins (Dec. 27) and Panthers (Jan. 2) at home & the Falcons on the road (Jan. 9), and the Saints will have a chance to slide into the postseason. But it’s just a chance. The Dolphins have won six straight games after starting 1-7, and predicting division games is always difficult.
Ironically, it might serve the Saints better if they had more away games to play because defense travels well. They’re just 1-4 in the Caesars Superdome this season (one “home” win came in Jacksonville against the Packers), and 5-3 on the road.
However, the playoff race is wide open — in both conferences. Only the Packers have locked up a spot, clinching the NFC North this past weekend. If the Saints win out, they’ll finish 10-7 and be firmly in contention for two wild card spots with teams like L.A. Rams (9-4, hosts Seahawks Tuesday), San Francisco (8-6), Minnesota (7-7), Washington (6-7, plays at Eagles Tuesday), Philadelphia (6-7, hosts Washington Tuesday) and Atlanta (6-8).
It wouldn’t be a New Orleans Saints season without making us a little nervous, would it?
But what a time for the Saints’ 15th shutout in franchise history — 6 days before Christmas and with the season on the line.
Whether the Saints make the playoffs or not, we’ll remember this win for a while.
Merry Christmas, Who Dat Nation!
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