Tampa Bay’s defense has picked it up as of late and a big thanks to the last couple of wins can go to safety Keith Tandy, with the Buccaneers’ latter win coming in the form of a 16-11 victory versus the New Orleans Saints
You’ve been hearing it all week. The last time the Buccaneers won five straight games, Jon Gruden was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 2003. Flash forward 13 years and Tampa Bay is on a roll once again and like back in the 2002-2003 campaign, the Buccaneers’ defense is becoming a primary reason why the team is winning games. Not only did Tampa Bay setup what will be a big time matchup against the red hot Dallas Cowboys next weekend on Sunday Night Football, but the Buccaneers took one step closer to securing a postseason spot and all but knocking the New Orleans Saints out of playoff contention in the NFC.
Like the Detroit Lions the week previous, the Buccaneers held Drew Brees to no touchdowns and three interceptions, keeping the Saints offense off balanced the entire evening. The first quarter helped set the tone defensively for Tampa Bay, as the Saints started off with a couple three and outs offensively and the Buccaneers were able to take advantage early, much alike the 14-5 win against the Seattle Seahawks. Tampa Bay held firm control to a 10-0 early on in the second quarter, after Doug Martin, who rushed for 66 yards, punched in a touchdown from a yard out. The Buccaneers weren’t done yet putting points up on the board in the first half, as place kicker Roberto Aguayo continued his upward trend of making field goals and knocked home a 39-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a commanding 13-0 lead.
A very strange string of events concluded the first half, starting off with a muffed kickoff return by newly promoted wide receiver Josh Huff, which the ball went out on the 1-yard line and eventually led to Martin being stuffed in the endzone for a Saints’ safety, cutting the Buccaneers’ lead to 13-5. On the ensuing punt, Bryan Anger punted the ball out of bounds and giving New Orleans solid field position on its next possession. Though it only ended in a field goal, the weird string of events could’ve led to much worse damage for the Buccaneers and a much tighter game down the stretch.
The second half was all about both defenses, as the Buccaneers couldn’t get anything rolling against the well adjusted Saints’ defense. Jameis Winston, who finished the game with 184 yards passing on 16-of-26, was rushed constantly by New Orleans pass rush, led by Cameron Jordan, who had five tackles and a 0.5 sack. With Tampa Bay’s offense in flux, defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s defense did much of the heavy lifting in the final two quarters in making sure that Brees and company did not explode offensively. Much of a bend but don’t break mentality is something that Smith’s defense has held their hat to through this 5-game win streak, and it has been against some quality quarterbacks. Another huge late game interception from Tandy helped secure what becomes the team’s most meaningful football played since the 2010 campaign. From Russell Wilson to Phillip Rivers and now Brees, the Buccaneers’ defense has started to prove to everyone its worth as a viable postseason club.
A monster test now comes on the Buccaneers’ table next weekend on Sunday night, with the Cowboys’ potent offense, led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, whom are both in the running for this season’s NFL MVP award. Will the Cowboys game be the shining moment that Tampa Bay needs to show America that its a team to be take seriously? A win against America’s team might be what the doctor ordered when it comes in terms of if the Buccaneers want to cement the legitimacy of this current winning streak. This win against the Saints was a grind, but expected. The real test comes next weekend and that clock ticking down to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night has started.
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