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UP NEXT: Saints Face Rapidly-Improving Buccaneers in Early Season Division Showdown

For those New Orleans Saints fans who were hoping that the team would be able to breathe a little easier with the “hard part” of their 2019 regular season schedule out of the way that included unlikely back-to-back wins over favored opponents Seattle and Dallas, chances are you might end up being a bit disappointed.

Up next on the schedule for the Black and Gold: an early season NFC South Division showdown with their long-time division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs will enter the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next week with a break-even (2-2) win-loss record and are one game behind New Orleans in the current division standings after four games, but they are a rapidly-improving team on both sides of the football, under first year head coach and offensive coaching “guru” Bruce Arians.

Photo courtesy of Loren Elliott. The Tampa Bay Times

That includes their impressive win yesterday evening out in Los Angeles, California; as they defeated and “upset” the previously-undefeated Rams by a somewhat shocking score of 55-40.

With a competent coach such as Arians now calling the shots, Tampa has clearly raised the bar of their overall performance after a slow start; and with the stellar contributions of four players specifically; QB Jameis Winston, WR’s Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and on the defensive side of the ball: the NFL’s current leader in sacks (9), in defensive end ; outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

Yesterday in sunny Southern California, the Bucs jumped out to an early 21-point lead and picked off Rams starting QB Jared Goff twice before giving up touchdowns to L,A. on back-to-back drives in the 2nd quarter.

But they were able to quickly answer back when Winston connected with Godwin — who has emerged as the #1 WR for the Bucs in Arains’ offensive scheme — for two scores: the first one which occurred on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone, followed by one on the next drive via a screen pass.

Eventually, Tampa Bay would go on to score 4 TD’s on their first six possessions in the 1st half, but unlike the previous week when they only put up just 3 total points in the 2nd half in their last-second loss to the New York Giants, they remained aggressive and ended up scoring another 27 points after halftime against the vaunted Rams defense.

After entering the locker room with a 28-17 halftime lead, the Bucs jumped all over the Rams yet again; first with a a 58-yard field goal by kicker Matt Gay; which was then subsequently followed by short TD pass to tight end Cameron Brate, then a Winston 67-yard “bomb” to Tampa’s other talented WR Mike Evans (whom the Rams doubled-teamed for most of the game), which then was followed by another field goal from 21 yards out, by Gay.

But just as with the Saints in their win last night over Dallas, Tampa’s impressive win yesterday was fueled largely in part by the play of their defense; and particularly by the unrelenting and stellar performance of Barrett; who Tampa signed in Free Agency this past off-season from the Denver Broncos.

The Buccaneers’ first interception came on a pass deflected by Barrett that unexpectedly landed right directly in the hands of safety Jordan Whitehead. The second came on a 3rd-down-and-4 situation, when veteran Bucs linebacker Lavonte David jumped a slant route. Then in the 3rd quarter, Goff was picked off by Barrett at the Tampa Bay 43-yard line following a ferocious hit on the Rams QB by inside linebacker Kevin Minter.

All together, the Bucs defense scored 28 points off four Goff turnovers, including a fumble return late in the 4th Quarter by veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh; who recovered a Barrett strip / sack and returned it for a score with 1:17 to go to seal the win for Tampa Bay .

Nevertheless. the Bucs still allowed Goff to pass for 517 yards. But next Sunday at the Superdome, they’ll be facing back-up Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater; who is unlikely to match the numbers put up yesterday by Goff.

However, the greater concern for the Saints will definitely be how to stop the Buccaneers offense, a unit whose notable improvement under the guidance of Arians, is becoming quite evident.

Noted for his ability to develop young QB’s such as former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck several years ago, Arians has spent the past several months mentoring and guiding Winston, and the results have clearly paid off.

The Bucs were 5-for-5 in the red zone against the Rams yesterday (including 4 TD’s), which was a huge point of emphasis during the past week after they went 1-for-5 in the red zone in their loss last week to the Giants.

Prior to yesterday’s break-out performance, scoring touchdowns in the red zone had been a problem this season for the Bucs. Heading into the Los Angeles Coliseum yesterday, Tampa had only scored just three touchdowns off 11 red zone possessions (or only just 27.3%, which had ranked them 31st overall in the entire NFL).

“There was no panic on our sideline — there was a lot of belief,” Arians said to reporters in his post-game press conference afterwards. “I think we answered whether or not we’re tough enough to overcome a tough loss.”

Winston — who has very notably struggled at times against the Saints in previous losses to New Orleans — concurred with his new head coach and mentor’s assessment.

“It showed the resilience that [the Rams] have, but I have to credit our guys again,” Winston said. “Just to continue to stay on it, not be complacent and just finish. That was our message at halftime. That was our message after the last game after we lost, but now we ended up victorious because we did finish.”

Now the Buccaneers will invade the Superdome in search of another road win. but this time at the expense of their NFC South Division rival, and a Saints team that still will be without Brees at least for the next 4 games.

That’s assuming of course that everything still goes as planned, with Brees’ anticipated healing and recovery time from surgery for his torn thumb ligament on his right throwing hand.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Advocate

With a win over the Saints next Sunday, Tampa Bay would have a great shot at grabbing the division lead in the NFC South over the next two weeks, with a trip to London, England on their upcoming schedule the week after  against the Carolina Panthers.

Bottom line: yes, the Saints are (3-1) and have put themselves in a very favorable position up to this point in spite of Brees’ absence, by beating two teams (Seattle and Dallas) in back-to-back weeks when nobody honestly thought they stood a realistic chance of pulling it off. 

But the Buccaneers aren’t “slouches” by any means — and as a rapidly-improving team that appears to be on the rise under their new head coach, will serve as a true test for the Black and Gold when they visit the Superdome next Sunday afternoon….


Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-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 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....


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