Here are three quick-hit observations on the Bucs’ shocking 23-13 win over the Saints.
1. The Saints have issues heading into the playoffs.
After knocking off the Falcons less than seven nights ago, everyone was talking about how nobody wants to face the Saints in the postseason. But after the crap-show they put on Sunday in New Orleans, why should any team be worried about New Orleans? Drew Brees threw an inception in his 12th-straight game.
Thomas Julius Jones fumbled at the goal line, which cost the Saints six points. For the second consecutive game, Sean Payton couldn’t get his offense moving. What’s going on here? The Saints are dangerous, period. But because of injuries and inconsistent play, they haven’t be dominant all season and it makes you wonder if they have what it takes to make another run to the Super Bowl.
2. The Bucs prove they can hang with the big boys.
Entering this game, the Bucs didn’t have a win against a team with a winning record. That didn’t mean they weren’t good or that they were lucky to still be in the playoff picture, but they lacked a signature win. Not anymore. For the second year in a row, Tampa went into New Orleans and beat the Saints. That’s remarkable considering the Saints won the Super Bowl last year. Raheem Morris has his young team believing that it can beat anyone and it proved on Sunday that it can. Josh Freeman continues to be special. Mike Williams is a great young playmaker. The defense is starting to take shape under Morris’ guidance. Regardless of whether or not they earn a trip to the postseason, things are starting to take shape in Tampa.
3. Why didn’t Payton remove his starters earlier?
I love Payton’s desire to win but he has to be smarter. The Falcons were obviously in control against Carolina up 31-3 midway through the third quarter and with nothing on the line in terms of playoff seeding for the Saints, Payton should have pulled his starters earlier. Malcolm Jenkins, Jimmy Graham, Chris Ivory and Alex Brown were all hurt in the first half. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Jeremy Shockey and Anthony Hargrove were all inactive before the game. The Saints should beat whichever NFC West team wins on Sunday night in the first round of the playoffs next weekend, but they can’t be shorthanded for the Divisional Round. Payton is fortunate that Brees or another starter wasn’t hurt after he exposed his starters to injury longer than he had to.