Saints 31, Buccaneers 24: Immediate Reactions

Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates with wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during the first quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 24, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates with wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during the first quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in years, the Buccaneers (8-7) played a meaningful week 16 game. Unfortunately, they couldn’t come through with the win they needed, losing on the road to the Saints (7-8). Here, we have immediate observations and reactions from a loss that severely hurts Tampa Bay’s playoff chances.

31. 15. Final. 24. 48

The Buccaneers watched their playoff chances take a serious hit on Saturday afternoon. They couldn’t overcome a shaky performance from the offense and a bad outing for the defense, which drops them further outside of the NFC’s final wild card spot.

Observations and Reactions- General

-Well, what a disappointment.

-Tampa Bay really had a chance to prove something on Saturday afternoon. It could’ve shown that it has taken the next step in its progression as a team. Instead, the Bucs looked more like they did early in the season.

-The Bucs committed seven penalties for 63 yards on the afternoon. A couple of those flags proved costly.

Observations and Reactions- Offense

-Once again, Jameis Winston was too inconsistent. Some blame can be placed on the offensive line, but he has to be better than he was on Saturday. He completed 23 of his 35 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted twice. The first was just a bad throw, while the second came due to a bad decision.

-The decision to completely bench Doug Martin was a weird one to me, but going with Jacquizz Rodgers was a smart choice. He played very well earlier in the year, and he played well again on Saturday. Despite the Bucs having to go away from the run due to the deficit, he rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. That’s an average 4.2 yards per carry, which is much better than Martin’s average.

-Losing Cameron Brate in the second half was a big deal. He’s a major difference-maker, and not having him late in the game really hurt. Before going down, he had a 12-yard touchdown catch.

Mike Evans showed up on Saturday, catching seven passes on eight targets for 97 yards and a touchdown. He certainly deserves the Pro Bowl honors that he received earlier this week.

-The offensive line is still a huge problem. It was still missing Demar Dotson, so Kevin Pamphile had to make the move over to tackle. Winston was only sacked twice, but the line still didn’t provide him with the time that he needed. Ali Marpet made some uncharacteristic mistakes, getting called for a hold and a false start on the same drive.

Observations and Reactions- Defense

-The defense really let the Bucs down today. Sure, it wasn’t realistic to expect them to hold the Saints to 11 points again. But, the unit just didn’t put up much of a fight. New Orleans put up 417 yards, mixing well between run and pass.

Mark Ingram blew through the Bucs. He rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

-The Tampa Bay secondary, which had played much better prior to week 15, was not good on Saturday. It gave up some huge plays to Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks. Vernon Hargreaves really struggled at times, while safety play was back to being sub-par as well.

Kwon Alexander is really good. He really has taken on an impressive leadership role this year, and performed well on Saturday. The former LSU Tiger picked up 10 tackles (five solo) and two pass breakups.

-Tampa Bay didn’t get enough of a pass rush, which led to a strong day for Drew Brees. The Bucs picked up just two sacks, with one coming very early in the game. Lavonte David got that one, and Clinton McDonald nabbed one later.

-The Bucs’ inability to create turnovers was another big issue. Their offense turned the ball over twice, and the fact that they couldn’t come up with anything on defense cost them big-time.

Observations and Reactions- Special Teams

Bryan Anger is still really good, and I’m still upset that he wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl. He punted three times for an average of 51 yards on Saturday, pinning all three inside the 20.

Roberto Aguayo has come on stronger lately. Against the Saints, he connected on all three extra points and made a 35-yard field goal late in the game. The field goal gave the Bucs a shot in the fourth quarter.

-The decision to go with an onside kick after the field goal was a bit strange. Tampa Bay had all three timeouts, but it still went for the onside. Even still, it’s a call that is only scrutinized when it fails. Had the Bucs recovered, Dirk Koetter would be praised. He gambled, and it didn’t pay off. That kind of stuff happens.

-It’s officially time to take Josh Huff off of kickoff returns, right? He made another boneheaded mistake, bobbling the opening kickoff of the second half before getting taken down at the four. A few plays later, Winston was intercepted. The Saints scored shortly after to go up by two possessions. It goes without saying, but Huff was not back to receive kickoffs after that.

Final Thoughts

How disappointing was that? I know I was really hoping that Tampa Bay could come through with an impressive, season-saving win on Christmas Eve to kick off the holiday in an exhilarating way. That didn’t happen, and now playoff hopes are very small heading into the final week of the season. The Bucs weren’t good enough to get it done on Saturday, which is a huge disappointment considering the position that they were in just two weeks ago.

Don’t get me wrong. The Saints are a good team and beating them in New Orleans was never going to be easy. But, this was a game that a playoff-caliber team should win. I mean, there’s a reason that the Saints have eight losses. I guess that opens up the idea that hey, there’s a reason that the Bucs have seven losses. They might not be completely there yet. But, the run was a fun one. Their playoff hopes aren’t completely dead, and fans can still hope that things work out in week 17. But I think we can all keep things in perspective and remember this: the 2016 Buccaneers weren’t really supposed to be in contention this late in the season. There are a lot of holes on the team, but Tampa Bay was in position to make some noise late in the season. I think we can all agree that, if some more talent gets added, the team has a promising future.

Next: Twas The Night Before Christmas: Buccaneers Edition

The Bucs finish up the regular season on New Year’s Day, hosting the Carolina Panthers (6-9) at 1:00.

I would be remiss if I signed off without wishing our readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and a Happy New Year.