The New Orleans Saints rebounded from a loss against the Dallas Cowboys last week with a 28-14 comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday. The victory clinched the a second straight NFC South championship for New Orleans, their first consecutive divisional titles in franchise history, and sends them to the postseason for the twelve time. It didn't start easy for New Orleans. Their offensive line struggled once again, particularly left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Andrus Peat. Quarterback Drew Brees was sacked just once, leading to a fumble, but was often hurried and rushed on his throws. The New Orleans running game was held well below their normal output, was held to just 3.3 yards per carry, and were absolutely stymied in the first half. The Saints defense was steamrolled for a touchdown on the opening Buccaneers drive, and struggled throughout the first half to contain the mobile Jameis Winston. New Orleans had only 104 first half yards, and they went into halftime trailing 14-3, as once again their complimentary offensive weapons were ineffective and unproductive. The Saints took control of this contest in the second half, starting with a big play that shifted the tide from our first game ball recipient.
Tampa Bay lined up to punt on their second possession of the second half, still clinging onto the game's momentum. That changed suddenly though, when Taysom Hill burst through the left side of the Bucs line and blocked a punt that would be recovered by Dwayne Washington around the Tampa Bay 30 yard line. The play was arguably the biggest of the game, and led to a New Orleans touchdown that swung the momentum of the contest. Hill continues to see offensive snaps, but his gutty and athletic play on special teams has stood out much more over the last several weeks.
Cam Jordan had two of the team's four sacks, and was able to consistently pressure Winston along with fellow end Marcus Davenport and tackle Sheldon Rankins, who had solid outings as well. Although they struggled to contain Winston's scrambling at times, it was their pass rush that helped limit the productive Tampa Bay passing attack. The defensive line also helped hold Bucs running back Peyton Barber to just 3 yards per attempt, making them one dimensional through the second half.
Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple
The Saints secondary, much maligned for most of the season, came up big against the talented Tampa Bay receivers. The Buccaneers had four different wideouts go over 100 yards receiving in the last two meetings against the Saints, who gave up a combined 780 passing yards in those two losses. Lattimore, who had an interception to end the game, locked up with Mike Evans for much of the game. Evans caught a deep pass down the sideline on the game's second play to set up Tampa's first touchdown, but was held without another catch until the game had been decided, finishing with four catches for 86 yards. Eli Apple was mostly responsible for Chris Godwin, who finished with just one reception for 13 yards, and was shut out in the second half. Apple is often targeted by opposing quarterbacks in the Saints base defense, and stayed physical and aggressive no matter his coverage assignment. The two corners combined for 8 tackles, 4 pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble, but New Orleans got solid play from the entire defensive backfield. Winston would complete only 47% of his passes for the game, and would go 6 of 17 for just 83 yards in the second half.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Saints running back Mark Ingram broke through the right side of the line and powered his way to a 17-yd. game-clinching touchdown, carrying three defenders into the end zone. The score was the 49th rushing touchdown of Ingram's career, tying him with Deuce McAllister for the all-time franchise record. Ingram finished with a game high 52 hard fought yards rushing despite struggles with the offensive line, 50 of them on 10 carries in the second half.
New Orleans also had standout games from Michael Thomas, who had 11 catches for 98 yards, and Alvin Kamara, who had 87 yards from scrimmage, but the team continues to lack consistent offensive production from anyone else. The Saints should get left tackle Terron Armstead back from injury next week, which will shore up their surprising struggles along the offensive line. New Orleans currently holds the top seed in the NFC playoff race, after the Chicago Bears defeat of the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints continue to show that they are capable of winning any type of game, in any venue, but will now use the last three games to try and secure home field advantage after this historic victory for the franchise.
Who had the most impressive performance in the Saints division clinching win over Tampa Bay?
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Marshon Lattimore/Eli Apple