IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Saints rally to defeat Bucs, win NFC South

Ken Cross

December 10, 2018 at 9:56 am.

Dec 9, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 9, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

There are tons of clichés used throughout sports when two teams take turns dominating each other in certain phases of the game. The key though is usually where there is a momentum change that “never” is reciprocated.

That was normalized Sunday in the New Orleans Saints’ 28-14 win in Tampa Bay which saw the Buccaneers dominate the first half, then get dominated in the second half as the Saints won the NFC South for the second consecutive season.

Leading 14-3 out of halftime, Tampa Bay got exactly what it wanted when Jason Pierre-Paul secured a fumble at the Saints 24-yard line on Ryan Nassib’s strip-sack of Pats’ quarterback Drew Brees on the initial New Orleans second half drive.

The Bucs couldn’t move the football and Cairo Santos missed his second field goal of the game which was a 40-yard attempt. Then, they forced a three-and-out, went back on offense and the Saints’ Taysom Hill blocked Bryan Anger’s subsequent punt.

Saints coach Sean Payton noted afterward that they had a return on and Hill just hit a seem in the middle.

“We struggled offensively and we took kind of a big play in the second half, the blocked punt,” said Payton. “All of a sudden, you know, to be able to win a game maybe where you didn’t play your best in one certain area or another was significant.”

Hill noted that special teams coach Mike Westhoff challenged him and rush specialist Alex Okafor because the Saints had almost blocked a punt last week against Dallas and then they  thought the opportunity could exist against the Buccaneers on Sunday.

“I came free, both the tackle and the wing set on Alex and my whole thing was just don’t miss the ball because I got there really early,” Hill explained. “It’s a ton of fun rushing next to Okafor because he draws so much attention.”

From that point, the Saints were literally marching to the NFC South title.

The defense stifled the Bucs’ offense as Tampa Bay ran only 11 plays for (-6) yards on the next three drives. Brees supplemented their effort as he engineered consecutive scoring drives on the final four possessions.

He passed for one score, ran for another before Mark Ingram’s 17-yard touchdown run left the Saints at 11-2 and in control of home field advantage in the NFC.

Brees hit fullback Zach Line on a one-yard touchdown pass and then pitched to running back Alvin Kamara to cut it to 14-11 with 4:48 to play in the third.

On the next possession, he orchestrated a 10-play, 51-yard drive that saw him reach out for the score on a one-yard run after the Buccaneers’ offense once again stalled and Tampa Bay went three-and-out.

“Our defense was on the field way too much in the second half,” said Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter. “I think we had 16, almost 17 minutes of time of possession in the first half, and like 12 in the second half. Again, that’s just not going to work against the Saints. They totally shut us down in the second half.”

Jameis in charge: Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston might not be lauded in the statistics column, but he commanded the offense well despite it’s problems against the aggressive Saints’ defense.

Winston passed for 213 yards as he was 18-for-38, but he didn’t have any turnovers and he was generally making wise decisions with the football all afternoon. The Bucs’ offensive line had a tough day as Winston was sacked four times and he was hurried 10 times.

“I’ve just got to get the ball out of my hands,” said Winston.  “I can’t put them (offensive line)  in that situation. Sometimes I can make some good plays for them, other times I’ve got to get the ball out and just complete the football.”

Brate the Great: Tight end Cameron Brate has had some tough injury issues this season, but he and Winston were on point Sunday.  He was the target for Winston’s two touchdown passes as they capped an 7-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard connection to start the game.

Then after Adarius Taylor picked off Brees at the Saints 30 late in the first half, Brate caught Winston’s one-yard toss to give the Buccaneers a 14-3 lead at the break.

“It seemed like he (Winston) had a little more time back there in the pocket,” noted Brate of how the offense was able to work in the first half. “If we give him time, we know he’s going to make plays. I thought he did a good job making some plays with his legs on third downs to keep drives alive.”

Challenge Accepted: In Week One, the Bucs ravaged the Saints’ defense for 529 yards as Ryan Fitzpatrick, in for Winston, who was serving the first of a three-game suspension, threw for 417 yards in the 48-40 win.

Defensively, things were different on Sunday as the Bucs’ opening touchdown drive was really the only possession where they made much noise.

“I would say they probably played a little more conservative – always had a safety over the top,” analyzed Brate, who leads the Bucs with six touchdown catches on the season. “You’ve just got to give credit to them. They challenged us as receivers and tight ends – put us in a lot of one-on-one matchups.”

Tampa Bay finished with only 279 yards on the wet track at Raymond James Stadium, an obvious difference from the season opener.

“They did a good job all day of disguising some coverages and making it tough on us as receivers to recognize the different type of coverage they’re running and to get open and create separation,” said wide receiver Adam Humphries.