The New Orleans Saints travel to Florida to face the their NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers this afternoon. This will be the 54th meeting between the Buccaneers and Saints, with New Orleans holding a 32-21 lead in the series, including a 14-9 record in Tampa, site of this afternoon's contest. The Buccaneers handed the Saints a 48-40 defeat in New Orleans earlier this year in the season opener. These two have been divisional opponents since the formation of the NFC South in 2002, and the Saints have a 19-14 record against the Bucs during that time, including a 10-6 record on the road.
The first time these teams met was on December 11, 1977 in New Orleans, during the Buccaneers second season in the league. Tampa Bay came into the game with an 0-12 record, and 0-26 overall as a franchise after losing all of their 14 games the year before. The Bucs intercepted six passes, forced seven turnovers, and scored three defensive touchdowns on their way to a 33-14 upset for their first ever victory, and one of the most embarrassing moments in Saints history. New Orleans would exact a small measure of revenge almost one year later to the day, their first game in Tampa, to close out the 1978 season. On December 17, 1978, the Saints would beat the Bucs, 17-10. The New Orleans defense would hold Tampa Bay to only 177 total yards, 10 first downs, and quarterback Doug Williams to just 7 of 22 passing for 96 yards. The Saints offense would gain 421 yards and 24 first downs, but turned the ball over 3 times and needed a 4th quarter touchdown pass from Archie Manning to Henry Childs to break a 10-10 tie for the margin of victory. The Saints would win each of the first three times they would face the Buccaneers in Tampa, in 1978, '79, and '83, but lose to them at home in 1977, '81, and '82.
New Orleans would begin to build one of the league's most intimidating defenses in the early 1980's, and towards the end of the decade and into the early 1990's were a consistent playoff contender. The Buccaneers on the other hand, were a perennial doormat during that same period. From 1983-1994, New Orleans would win 10 of their 11 meetings against the Buccaneers. Only three of those matchups were played in Tampa though, including the Bucs lone win during this stretch, a 20-10 win in 1989.
A league realignment in 2002 would create the NFC South, where New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Atlanta would form one of the NFL's most competitive divisions. The first divisional match up between these two would be in the 2002 season opener, on September 8th in Tampa Bay, and would be a harbinger of things to come for the entire division. The Saints would jump to a 13-3 halftime lead, and hold a 20-10 lead late into the fourth quarter on the strength of 260 yards passing from quarterback Aaron Brooks, 108 yards receiving by Joe Horn, and 109 yards rushing from Deuce McAllister. The Buccaneers stormed back though, scoring ten points in the final three minutes to send the game into overtime. On their first possession of the extra period and backed up near their own goal line, Buccaneers punter Tom Tupa was unable to get his kick off due to heavy pressure. Tupa would attempt a left-handed throw, which was easily intercepted by Saints rookie linebacker James Allen in the end zone for a 26-20 New Orleans victory.
Drew Brees is 15-10 against the Buccaneers since becoming the Saints starting quarterback in 2006, and a 7-5 record in Tampa Bay, although his teams have lost the last two there. He and coach Sean Payton's first visit to Tampa was on November 5, 2006, during their first season in New Orleans. The Saints had narrowly defeated the Buccaneers at home earlier that year on a late punt return touchdown by Reggie Bush, but would have an easier time in the rematch. Brees would throw for 314 yards and three scores, including two long touchdowns to Devery Henderson. Marques Colston added 11 catches for 123 yards and another score, and New Orleans rolled to a 31-14 win. Brees has averaged 288 passing yards in his 25 games against the Bucs while with the Saints, with 10 300-yd. games, throwing 49 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. He has struggled at times against them on the road, tossing 22 touchdowns against 17 interceptions in twelve games. One such struggle was late in the 2016 season. On December 11, 2016, the Saints lost a vital road game against Tampa Bay. The prolific New Orleans offense was held to just three field goals in a 16-11 loss, as Brees was intercepted three times on just 25 of 41 throwing attempts.
Tampa Bay made quarterback Jameis Winston the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Winston has a 3-3 record against the Saints, including a 2-1 home record. His best game against New Orleans came on December 31, 2017 during the last meeting between these two in Tampa in the season finale last year. Winston overcame 3 interceptions to throw for 363 yards and a last second touchdown pass to outduel Brees in a 31-24 victory. In the win, Tampa wide receiver Adam Humphries had 7 receptions for 102 yards and fellow wideout Chris Godwin added 7 more for 111 yards and the winning score. Buccaneer wideouts again made the New Orleans secondary look foolish earlier this season, the 48-40 Tampa victory on opening weekend. Mike Evans (7 catches, 147 yards, 1 touchdown) and DeSean Jackson (5-146, 2) were unstoppable as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four scores in replacement of the suspended Winston. The New Orleans loss ruined brilliant efforts by Brees, who threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns, receiver Michael Thomas, who had 16 receptions for 180 yards, and running back Alvin Kamara, who caught nine passes for 112 yards and scored 3 touchdowns.
The Saints come into this game after suffering their first loss since that opening day defeat, dropping a 13-10 decision to Dallas that ended a 10-game winning streak. New Orleans will be looking for a return to form from their offensive line after struggling against the Cowboys and suffering through their worst performance of the season after dominating opponents most of the year. The Tampa Bay defense, ranked near the bottom of the league, has had little success against Saints stars Kamara and Thomas. Kamara has averaged over 140 yards from scrimmage and has scored 7 touchdowns in three meetings against them, while Thomas has averaged 8 receptions and over 100 yards against the Bucs defense. The Saints top ranked run defense should bottle up an underwhelming Tampa running game, but a talented Buccaneers receiving corps will present a major challenge to the 30th ranked New Orleans pass defense.
The Buccaneers have swept the Saints just one time in the history of this series, during the 2007 season, and they won't do it on this day. The New Orleans offense will rebound from their worst performance of the season last week and unleash their stars. Defensively, the Saints have allowed less than 20 points in each of the last four games and have caused 14 turnovers in the last six contests after early season struggles. Their dynamic front seven will heavily pressure a Buccaneers offense that has the most turnovers in the NFL, and the Saints will clinch their second straight NFC South title with a win.