Following Tampa Bay’s impressive victory at home over a very hot New Orleans Saints squad, it makes more sense now than ever to take a look at the three top teams in the division most affected by the result of the game as well as a few impact performers on the day.
Keep in mind that this victory must be largely attributed to the play of the Buccaneers. The team showed a substantial effort against the Saints after an embarrassing loss the week prior.
This is certainly the most obvious answer being that the Bucs did win the game, but there’s much more to it than that.
After effectively having their behinds handed to them in San Francisco the previous week, it would have not been a surprise to see a lifeless, morale deficient Buc team take the field this past Sunday.
But instead we saw something much different and more reminiscent of the same squad we all usually have to wait until the fourth quarter to get a glimpse of.
The resurgent young Bucs didn't wait until they were behind in the dying minutes of the 4th quarter. Instead, they took a lead early into the second that the Saints’ explosive offense would not prove able to surmount.
Having already suffered a loss at Raymond James Stadium to the visiting Detroit Lions in Week 1, this victory over the division rival Saints could be the turning point for a team intending to keep their playoff hopes alive.
As of now, the Buccaneers remain atop the NFC South tied with the New Orleans Saints who are 2-0 at the Superdome so far this season. It's important that Tampa Bay not only win the rest of their encounters on their own turf but they must steal a couple victories on someone else’s as well.
Coming into Raymond James Stadium fresh off a road win against the division rival in Carolina Panthers the previous week, there was a high level of expectation by fans and football analysts alike that the Saints would make quick work of a faltering Buccaneers team.
Those outside expectations by themselves are not really a problem, but when the guys in the locker room begin to treat a game as if it has already been decided on the basis of a few retired guys calling their number on television, it could end up becoming one. That may have been the case here with the Saints.
Things got ugly for the Saints. They coughed up four turnovers (three via interceptions) and forced none themselves. The Saints couldn't even sack Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman.
It is important to note that this loss does not necessarily spell the end for the Saints, who had been on a four game win streak until losing Sunday. The loss does represent an incredible missed opportunity to defeat a weakened team and grab hold of the lone top spot in the NFC South.
Missed opportunities eventually comeback to haunt teams. A loss to the Bucs in New Orleans on Sunday, November 6th would be a prime example of just that.
To make matters worse for New Orleans, head coach Sean Payton sustained a very serious leg injury after Saints' tight end Jimmy Graham collided with the offensive guru on the sideline early in the 1st quarter. The injuries are reported to be an MCL tear and a fractured tibia, and will require surgery to repair.
Currently at 3-3 and third in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons 2011 season has been largely a disappointment up to this point for a team that went 13-3 and won the division the year prior.
But due to the outcome of Sunday’s game between the Buccaneers and Saints, Atlanta is now just one win behind the shared NFC South division leaders.
While one may argue that a Buccaneer’s loss may have effectively moved the Falcons into a second place tie, that scenario would only boast a short-term benefit and prove to be detrimental to the team’s chief aspiration of reclaiming the division as the Saints would now be 5-1 under those circumstances.
A 5-1 record that included two away wins against two divisional opponents rather than one to the Carolina panthers would make the climb much to the top much steeper than it stands.
After having thrown twice as many interceptions (6) as he had touchdowns (3) coming into the Buccaneers’ confrontation with the Saints on Sunday, Josh Freeman finally gave us a taste of what everyone had expected coming into this season.
Freeman passed for just over 300 yards and ended up completing two touchdown passes. The only gripe against the young quarterback may have been his less than stellar completion percentage (56.1) after going 23-for-41 on the day.
Following a lackluster two interception drubbing in San Francisco the previous week to a very strong 49ers’ defense, Freeman’s performance yesterday speaks more for his fantastic ability alone. They also attest to his resilience and self-confidence, which are invaluable characteristics.
Hopefully this proves to be the start of a trend rather than an aberration for the Bucs’ franchise quarterback. His success will no doubt play a quintessential role in making his team’s playoff aspirations and ambitions a reality.
Earnest Graham is one of the most underrated and under appreciated players in the NFL.
Coming into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2003, despite a solid college career at the University of Florida, Graham has made his mark as a selfless individual, a talented player, and an even better teammate.
It really came as no surprise to watch Graham break off on his 34-yard run, or see him finish the day with 109 yards on just 17 attempts. It was truly a shame that he did not manage to get into the end zone, although I’m sure Graham didn’t mind at all.
Having volunteered himself for the less glamorous role of fullback for the sake of players such as Warrick Dunn and Carnell Williams earlier in his career, I hope his performance this past Sunday reminds the top guys over at One Buc Place to give this guy a few more touches per game going forward.
Following his second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Tanard Jackson was suspended indefinitely by the NFL on September 22, 2010 and was declared ineligible for reinstatement until September 22, 2011.
Fast-forward to Sunday’s game against the Saints just a matter of days after his reinstatement on October 11th. There was little belief in that Jackson would play, much less make an impact.
Boy, were the skeptics wrong.
The former Syracuse standout returned to his free safety spot to post five tackles and grab an interception after a Drew Brees’ pass bounced right off the hands of Robert Meachem in the second quarter.
Jackson, a converted college corner, is among the elite safeties in the league when at his best. We can only expect him to improve as he returns to full fitness following his long layoff.
Prior to missing the last four games of the 2009 season following his first violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, Jackson collected 71 tackles, forced three fumbles, intercepted five passes, and scored two touchdowns.
If Jackson comes anywhere close to that production, there’s no telling how much of an impact his presence may have on a defense that had already ranked in the top 10 prior to this week.
However, the safety's triumphant return wasn't all rainbows and butterflies as Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake unfortunately tore his patella tendon in the process of celebrating Jackson's aforementioned interception.