It has been an interesting work week for the New Orleans Saints as the Paul Tagliabue bounty decision and subsequent stories about his investigation have been the talk centering the team this past week. Fans feel it was the final chapter in a season that was doomed from the start thanks to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his bounty investigation and penalties.
Sunday the Saints (5-8) host the Buccaneers (6-7) for the second time this season with each team entering the game on three game losing streaks. The playoffs may be out of reach for the Black and Gold but that doesn’t mean the team feels the season is over with already.
The Bucs looked post season bound as they won four games in a row following the loss to the Saints but losses to Atlanta, Denver and Philadelphia has the Bucs two games in the loss column out of the 6th and final spot in the NFC playoff standings. “We’re playing well at times. Our biggest issue is consistency right now. We’ll shoot ourselves in the foot and I don’t know if that’s accurate. The other team might be the reason we’re doing that,” Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano said this week to New Orleans reporters.
New Orleans won in Tampa back in Week 7 35-28 in a thriller. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns in the game, found receiver Mike Williams in the corner of the end zone but having been pushed out of bounds before the catch, was ruled ineligible and no touchdown was given. It was the game’s final play.
“He’s one of those guys, a big guy that can stand in the pocket and play big and throw the ball down field with some good receivers,” says Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spaguolo of Freeman. “Yet, if you let loose as a defensive linemen group and don’t have a little bit of pass rush integrity, he can hurt you with his feet. I haven’t seen a lot of their games since we played them the first time so I can’t comment on what he’s been doing there. I certainly will be digging into it as I leave here. I know what he’s all about, I’ve faced him before. He’s another quarterback that’s really good at the end of the game and they do really good things with him. I think it will be a challenge for our guys.”
The Saints will be without starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins on Sunday and for the rest of the season as he was placed on injured reserve Saturday due to a hamstring injury.
“This (running) back (Doug Martin) is doing a heck of a job right now. I don’t know that I’ve seen a back in the league this year in the National Football League make more yards after contact than he does,” Vitt says of Martin’s running ways. “We put some film on and you have defensive linemen and linebackers hitting him and he’s dropping those guys like third period French. They’re going down. (He’s) very impressive. (He) plays with a low pad level. He gets to top speed. He’s tough and he doesn’t try to make people miss. He runs over you. It’s very impressive.”
Bress in the first meeting threw four touchdowns against the Bucs secondary and had several big pass plays down the field. Wide receivers Joe Morgan hauled in a 48 yard touchdown and Devery Henderson had a 40 yard catch, Lance Moore had a 35 yard grab. Tight end Dave Thomas had a 20 yard touchdown catch.
The Bucs are the league’s top rushing defense averaging just 78.2 yards per game and gave up just 81 to the Saints back in the first meeting. While 2nd in the NFL in passing, the Saints are just 26th at running the football. Last week at New York the Saints rushed for 142 yards and with the Bucs having a solid pass rush, being balanced will once again be a key for the Saints this week.
The season began with what we expected to be a game in which the Saints as a team would use the bounty investigation as a motivational tool to play lights out. The opposite took place as the Saints appeared flat. There were difference circumstances of course as Aaron Kromer walked the sidelines for the first time in the regular season as head coach of the team.
This week one would expect once again that the bounty decision to vacate the players penalties and give a sense that the NFL was wrong in how it went about the investigation. The first meeting was a great game as the Saints fought back from a 21-7 deficit to retake the lead and then hold on for the win.
I expect a similar game. The fact Bucs won four straight after the loss to New Orleans and before that game back in Week 7 Tampa could have won at least three more. So Schiano will have his team ready and it’s really about how much heart do the Saints have left.
Vitt following the loss in New York last week for the first time voiced concern about not getting everything out of his guys on every play. It’s been a tough season. A trying season for the team so with three games remaining will they go all out? Tampa Bay has a slightly bigger chance than the Saint to make the playoffs but I believe finishing second in the division at season’s end is an accomplishment first year coach Shiano would be proud of.
I still believe that the Saints will go out and play hard and frankly the fact that in the last two games Brees has just one touchdown to seven interceptions I believe will have him trying to recapture the form we’re used to seeing. A banged up Tampa secondary could just be the cure to his interception sickness.
Give me the Saints 34-27.