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How Well Saints Play vs. Buccaneers Might Let Us Know What to Expect in NFL Playoffs

After the New Orleans Saints had one of their most disappointing performances of the year during their 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday Night, many Saints fans are wondering what they should expect to see from the team moving forward, and whether or not they can match the peak level of performance which was present during their 10-game winning streak that just recently got snapped.

Most Saints fans remain very cautious but yet optimistic that the Saints will have a “bounce back” game this upcoming Sunday at Tampa Bay; against a very scrappy Buccaneers team that has had its share of ups and downs this year which includes a stunning 48-40 season-opening win over New Orleans at the Superdome back in Week #1.

In that contest, the brilliant game-plan comprised by Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken allowed Tampa Bay to pull off a shocking upset.

Photo courtesy of Butch Dill, The Associated Press

As New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill noted back at that time: everything was an issue that particular day for the Saints defense, which tends to be the case when any defense (high school, college, professional level or otherwise) allows 529 yards and six plays of 30 or more yards.

But the Saints then reeled off 10 straight wins in a row, and that loss was quickly forgotten about for the most part; especially now that the Saints defensive unit has gone on to show some very notable improvement since that time.

However, now a large portion of Who Dat fans now find themselves very concerned over the team’s performance on the offensive side of the ball following the loss to the Cowboys; after the Dallas defense essentially DOMINATED the contest against Saints QB Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans offensive attack.

Brees, who is right smack in the middle of having one of the best seasons for any QB in NFL history, completed just 18 of 28 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and am unfortunate game-ending interception that he threw with 2:08 seconds left, while the Saints were still trailing by three points.

Credit Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for that brilliant game-plan as the Saints offense — who were averaging an NFL-best 37.2 points per game — was only able to muster 176 total yards while losing for only the 2nd time all season.

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

As a direct result: the Black and Gold now find themselves a game behind the (11-1) Los Angeles Rams (who easily beat the Detroit Lions on the road yesterday) in a tight race for the #1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

“I felt like we didn’t really find a rhythm for pretty much the whole game,” Brees said to ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett after the contest.

Brees, whose 127 passing yards were his second fewest in a full game during his entire 13 years with the Saints; half-jokingly told Triplett that “I guess we may have had one decent drive. … So credit to them.”

Brees added that he didn’t think that the Saints had somehow managed to lose their focus coming into the game.

“No. This was the next game, it was a big game. It was the most important game of the season because it was a big game,” Brees said. “We just came out and didn’t play with the tempo and rhythm, I think, that we’re used to.”

The Saints gained only 59 yards in the 1st half against the Cowboys defense while being shut out by a score of 13-0; and their 176 total yards were their fewest since the 2001 season.

Additionally, Triplett also made the observation that New Orleans had a league-leading streak of 71 games without being shut out in the 1st half of any game, that came to an end against Dallas, as well.

“[The Cowboys] played a heck of a game, deserved to win the game. … It starts with us as coaches, the plan going in,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said to reporters in his post-game press conference. “There will be a lot we watch on tape, and regret certain plays. But before we get into any of that, you really gotta tip your hat to the way they played.”

Payton’s sentiment was echoed by running back Mark Ingram.

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) (Richard Rodriguez)

“Sh*t, we were on a good run, you know. And we’ve just gotta get back to the drawing board,” Ingram said. “… [The Cowboys] just played hard, they did a good job. We didn’t do enough.”

“(But) I’m not worried about it. We’ll be just fine. We’ve still got the same playmakers. … We good. We just gotta fix it. We didn’t do enough today. We just need to make sure that this never happens again.”

One thing that’s likely to happen with Sunday’s upcoming game in Tampa against the Buccaneers is that it should serve as an indicator of how well this current Saints team might perform in the Playoffs in a few more weeks from now. 

Given the sense of urgency that the team now has while attempting to earn the #1 Playoff seed over the Rams, their performance at Tampa should give us a general idea of what type of Saints team that we can expect to see in the NFL post-season this year.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports

If they come out “flat” for a 2nd straight week, it will undoubtedly signal a great cause for concern with the Playoffs just one more month away.

However: if they play well overall and essentially “pick right up where they left off” from when they won 10 straight games in a row, then fans will be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Tampa Bay remains very capable of pulling off yet another upset over the Saints; and yesterday the Buccaneers got a stellar performance from their defense this time around.

The Bucs defensive unit made life miserable for Panthers QB Cam Newton all day long — as they sacked the at-times-controversial Carolina star on four different occasions and intercepted four of his passes.

Photo courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

It was the 4th consecutive loss for the Panthers and all but eliminated them from any chance of winning the NFC South Division title, and makes their path towards possibly pulling out a Wild Card berth seem very difficult by this point.

“The ‘D’ was fantastic,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said to reporters after yesterday’s rather impressive 24-17 victory over the now suddenly-reeling Panthers.

But the Bucs were also fueled by a solid performance from QB Jameis Winston, who after serving a 3-game suspension to begin the season as well as being benched a few weeks back, out-performed Newton yesterday and gave Bucs fans a reason to smile again after a string of a few disappointing losses for the past several weeks.

Bottom line: the Saints WON’T be waltzing into Tampa and taking an “easy W”, and they’ll have to earn every bit of a potential Division Championship-clinching victory this coming Sunday afternoon.

Above all else, you can believe that the Saints as a team remain squarely focused on the task at hand; which is to not only just make it all the way to the Super Bowl, but to win the whole damn thing.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

And that task will begin in earnest this Sunday evening in the southwestern portion of Florida, as the Saints look to “bounce back” in a major way following last week’s “big-time” disappointment against those trash-talking Dallas Cowboys.

How well the Saints do (or don’t) play against the Buccaneers might just tell us about what to expect from the Black and Gold, when Playoff time arrives next month….

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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