NFL GAME PREVIEW

After loss, Saints begin vital stretch vs. Bucs

Field Level Media

November 14, 2019 at 6:51 am.

The New Orleans Saints came out of their bye week with an opportunity to take command of the NFC South.

They were all alone in first place with a 7-1 record and approaching four consecutive games against division opponents.

But their six-game winning streak came to an end with a 26-9 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday.

Now they go on the road to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“These are defining games obviously,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “Because not only do you put yourself in a position to win one, but you put someone in your division in that position to lose one. Right? That is why we always say, in a lot of cases these are worth two (games). These are important games.”

New Orleans still holds a two-game lead over second-place Carolina, which it hosts next week in Week 12, and a four-game lead over the Buccaneers, whom it defeated last month. The Falcons, who host the Saints on Thanksgiving night, are five games back.

“Look at this division,” Brees said. “Throw the records out the door, OK. No matter who’s playing, where they are playing, these games always seem to be very close and can be very hard-fought.”

The Saints didn’t score a touchdown against the Falcons, had a season-low in rushing yards (52) and Brees was sacked six times by a defense that had seven sacks in its previous eight games.

“You turn the page,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Quickly, you turn the page to this opponent and it’s attention to detail from all of us. Coaches, making sure we put a plan in place and get ready to bounce back and play (a) good football game.

“I think we have got good leadership here. I think these guys understand the process. They understand the importance of the workweek relative to how you win in this league. They’ve been in big moments. They’ve experienced postseason play and they recognize the importance of winning in the regular season.
“You lean on your leadership and these guys will work on getting it corrected. Coaches as well. We’ve got to be better and then you focus on the next challenge.”

When these teams last met, Brees was in the midst of a five-game absence due to thumb surgery and Teddy Bridgewater led New Orleans to a 31-24 victory on Oct. 6.

“It’s the same offense,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s the beauty of having a guy like Teddy. He can do it. I think he might be a little more mobile, but I don’t see them doing anything differently. They’re still feeding the same three or four guys.”

The Bucs defense will look different Sunday after releasing safety Vernon Hargreaves from the NFL’s lowest-rated passing defense and scoring defense.

Arians didn’t explain why the Bucs released Hargreaves, a former No. 1 draft choice and a key player on their defense, but he did say, “There’s two things you can control. You can control your attitude and your effort.”

Tampa Bay’s secondary already was short-handed because of injuries to cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart.