Whichever team was victorious here would gain control of the division. The loser, meanwhile, would face a second loss in a row in an unforgiving division.
Over the following 10 slides, we’ll take a look at some things we learned about the Buccaneers in their 16-27 loss to the Saints.
Maybe it was the fact that the team had to travel home from London during their bye week. Maybe it was complacency after watching the struggling St. Louis Rams dismantle the Saints last week to gain their first win of the season.
Whatever the reason, it was sometimes hard to believe that the Buccaneers were a team coming off of its bye week.
The offense was ineffective. The defense was sluggish. On both sides of the ball, the team simply lacked the sense of urgency that should have been brought into a game of this magnitude.
Moreover, there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion for both the offensive and defensive squads. That uncertainty manifested itself in poorly-timed timeouts, dead-ball penalties, and blown routes and coverages.
The Buccaneers came into the game 28th in the NFL in penalties. Against the Saints, those yellow flags continued to pile up to the tune of nine penalties for 80 yards.
Offensively, the pass interference penalties and ridiculous personal fouls stole not only yards, but also first downs from the Buccaneers.
Defensively, the penalties practically gift-wrapped points for the Saints. There is no way to sugar coat that.
The swarm tackling technique worked pretty well in the beginning of the game for the Buccaneers, but that is perhaps the best that can be said about the Buccaneers’ defensive effort against the Saints.
Sending waves of players after the ball prevented the Saints from breaking big plays in the first quarter. After that, though, the Saints made some offensive adjustments and never looked back.
When the tackles came down to one-on-one matchups (which was the case for most of the later part of the game), the Buccaneers were extremely hit-or-miss.
For every play the Bucs were able to stop in the backfield, the Saints were able to execute several big plays both on the ground and in the air with yards after the catch.
In the first half of the game, the Buccaneers used a zone defense against the pass. Drew Brees punished the Bucs, carving them up for over 150 yards and two touchdowns.
In the second half, the Buccaneers shifted to zone coverage, which proved to be much more effective against the pass game.
Despite contending with some serious injuries at linebacker, the Buccaneers were able to keep the Saints in better check during the second half. Mason Foster was all over the field with tackles and assists, while Ronde Barber was able to get his hands on a toss to Darren Sproles for an interception.
Had their offense been able to put points on the board, the Buccaneers could have been much more competitive in the game than they were.
Against the Saints, Josh Freeman completed 26 or 36 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown.
He’s able to get the yards and thanks to a few lucky breaks he was able to avoid turning the ball over to the Saints, but he’s not able to get his team into scoring position.
Freeman’s struggles this season have been well documented. He’s been extremely hit or miss, and the Buccaneers record has generally reflected Freeman’s level of play. He has got to find some consistency on the field in order to keep his team competitive in their division down the stretch.
Despite his starter label, Arrelious Benn is perhaps one of the deepest wells of untapped potential on the Buccaneers' team.
With an average of 16.2 yards per catch, it seems strange that he hasn’t been integrated into the offense more effectively. He’s averaging just two receptions per game, which isn’t anywhere near enough to be a real help to his team.
It was good to see LeGarrette Blount back on the field, pounding the ground for 72 yards against the Saints. Although he struggled at times against the Saints’ defense, at other times he looked almost unstoppable.
He’ll only become more effective in the coming weeks as his knee continues to get better.
That is fortunate for the Bucs because Josh Freeman's problems on the field don’t seem to be clearing up in a timely fashion.
Although the Buccaneers struggled offensively, their problems cannot be blamed on poor field position.
Despite a couple of fumbles on a punt return late in the game, Preston Parker was red hot on the few returnable kickoffs and punts.
In particular, his 45-yard kickoff return helped to position his team well. It’s simply a shame that the Bucs weren’t able to capitalize on that opportunity.
The Buccaneers are becoming known for their slow starts. Against the New Orleans Saints they did little to overcome that tradition.
After a prolonged injury timeout halfway through the first series, the Bucs went three-and-out on the first drive of the game. They were equally ineffective for their next four offensive possessions before finally putting points on the board with just two minutes left in the first half.
When a team seems to be playing below its potential, the famous coaching excuse is that the players simply aren’t playing their best football—yet.
Tampa Bay coaches will have to use that excuse for yet another week after this week’s debacle against the Saints.
At some point, that excuse isn’t going to fly anymore. The Buccaneers have had nine weeks—including a bye week—to figure out what needs to be done to start playing their best football.
At this point, maybe the focus should be shifted from playing the best football to playing passably good football. The team isn’t going to get any better if they can’t get back to those fundamental basics.