Saints’ improvement overshadowed by turnovers, loss
NEW ORLEANS – Sometimes football is a really simple game.
Like when you turn the ball over five times, especially when four come during the fourth quarter of a tight game, you’re almost certainly going to lose.
Just ask Saints head coach Dennis Allen after his team did just that in a 20-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon in the Caesars Superdome.
Actually no one had a chance to ask Allen because he opened his post-game marks by volunteering the obvious.
“We’ve got to do a better job of protecting the ball and give ourselves a chance to win,” Allen said, adding that Sunday’s game was very much like “the last six games.”
That time frame has become a benchmark because it covers the time that Tom Brady has been the Buccaneers quarterback.
Prior to Sunday the Saints had won all four regular-season meetings since Brady moved to Tampa (and seven straight against the Bucs in the regular season overall).
Each of the four victories against Brady had been by at least nine points. That included the most-lopsided loss of Brady’s 23-year career (38-3 in Tampa in 2020) and the first shutout of a team led by Brady (9-0) in 15 years last season in Tampa.
In those four games Brady completed just 61 percent of his passes for an average of 259 yards.
On Sunday he completed 53 percent of his passes (18 of 34) for a mere 190 yards.
But in the four losses he had six touchdowns, eight interceptions and two lost fumbles. He was sacked 13 times for 93 yards in losses.
On Sunday, Brady did lose a botched snap that cost the Bucs a first-quarter scoring opportunity, but he had one touchdown and no interceptions and was sacked once for a loss of two yards.
On the other hand Jameis Winston, reportedly playing with four broken bones in his back, matched Brady’s single touchdown and passed for 46 more yards. But he threw three fourth-quarter interceptions – the first while the score was tied at 3 and the Saints were at their 47.
The second came on his next pass – after Brady’s touchdown pass had given Tampa the lead – setting up a field goal that provided the Bucs with breathing room in the form of a 10-point lead with 5:50 left.
Four passes after that Winston threw a pick-6 and it was over, though if there was any doubt after the Saints got within 10 and got the ball back, Chris Olave removed it by losing a fumble with 2:27 left.
Turnovers are the reason Winston is the Saints quarterback.
He was the Bucs quarterback from 2015-19. He threw 121 touchdown passes and 88 interceptions. That’s not a great ratio.
When the New England Patriots decided to get rid of Tom Brady the Bucs decided to grab him and let Winston go.
To Winston’s credit his ball security generally has improved in his limited time in New Orleans. He had 16 touchdowns and three interceptions – until Sunday.
The game Sunday was similar in two regards to Brady the Buc’s other win against the Saints – a 30-20 playoff victory after the 2020 season.
That game, like this one, started to slip away from the Saints because of a lost fumble. In that game it was tight end Jared Cook, who reached the Bucs 42 while the Saints were leading 20-13 in the third quarter before losing the ball.
On Sunday it was Mark Ingram II, who lost the ball at the Tampa 10 as the Saints were poised to break the 3-all tie.
Allen called Ingram’s fumble “a game-changer.”
That’s exactly what it was.
The playoff game quickly went from a tight game to a blowout as Drew Brees threw two of his four interceptions during the Bucs’ 17-0 closing run in what wound up being the last game of Brees’ career, just as Winston’s interceptions helped the Bucs pull away Sunday.
So understanding why the Saints lost Sunday is pretty simple.
Speculating about what it means going forward is trickier.
Last week an historic fourth-quarter comeback in a 27-26 victory at Atlanta overshadowed three quarters of largely poor play.
On Sunday the turnover festival in the fourth quarter overshadowed some good stuff – much improved defense (especially against the run), better pass protection and a solid running game even in the absence of injured Alvin Kamara.
If the Saints continue to turn the ball over the way they did against the Bucs they will have a terrible season.
But that’s not likely.
Teams that are as talented as this one and that have had the run of success that this one has had, rarely turn the ball with much frequency.
So it’s reasonable to assume that the decisive element of Sunday’s game – against a really good team – was more of an aberration than a chronic shortcoming.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…