METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints will try to bounce back from their second loss of the season by beating the team that gave them their first loss.
They have an extended week to recover from a 13-10 loss at Dallas on Nov. 29 and prepare to play at Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Buccaneers beat the Saints 48-40 in the season opener Dept. 9 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans won its next 10 games in a row before losing to the Cowboys.
If the loss to the Bucs weren’t enough to get the Saints attention for the rematch, the lackluster performance against the Cowboys likely did the trick.
“Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war,” quarterback Dres Brees said after practice Wednesday. “You learn a lot from something like that.
“I don’t think we were getting ahead of ourselves or anything like that. I just think we honestly just had a bad day and you turn on the film and it's glaringly obvious where we failed and (we need to) make sure that that doesn't happen again.”
Tampa Bay started 2-0, then lost seven of eight before winning its last two.
Since the first meeting, the Bucs have changed defensive coordinators – firing Mike Smith and replacing him with linebackers coach Mark Duffner – and Jameis Winston, who was suspended for thee first meeting, has regained the starting quarterback position from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“Obviously, a lot’s taken place since then,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “You're watching a lot of other tape, not just the tape of your past game.”
The Saints offense was outstanding in the first meeting, compiling 475 yards, but they couldn’t keep up with the Bucs, who gained 529.
In the seven games since the change at coordinator, Tampa Bay has ranked second in the NFL sacks (behind only the Saints), tied for third in third-down conversion percentage and 10th in passing yards per game. The Bucs have made at least four sacks in each of the last three games.
“There are some coverage things that appear to be different, more at a percentage or rate, (but) not necessarily a whole new type of scheme,” Payton said. “The scheme hadn't changed and I think it's always hard to do (that) in the middle of the season.
“Now relative to down and distance and tendencies and when they're calling certain fronts or coverages, some of that's moved in a certain direction one way or another, but overall you're still seeing what you know structurally at least in that defense.”
Winston has had a passer rating of more than 100 and thrown for at least two touchdowns in each of the last three games.
“They are throwing the ball as well as anyone in the league,” Payton said. “They are moving the ball as well as anyone. They are first in third down percentages. They present a number of challenges. Jameis is buying some time with his feet. He's (become) a stronger player in the pocket, a little bit more difficult to sack.”
SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. Saints lead series, 32-21, including a 14-9 mark in Tampa. The Buccaneers have won the last two meetings, prevailing 48-40 in the season opener in the Superdome and 31-24 in the regular-season finale in Tampa last New Year’s Eve. Tampa’s first NFL victory was a 33-14 triumph in the first meeting 1977 in the Superdome. The Bucs had lost their first 26 NFL game before that.
--The Saints can clinch their second consecutive NFC South championship by beating the Buccaneers or if the second-place Carolina Panthers (6-6) lose at Cleveland. New Orleans and Carolina meet twice in the final three weeks. “It says a lot about our success and that ten-game win streak,” Brees said of the opportunity clinch with three weeks left in the season. “That run was a great run. We gained a ton of confidence, a ton of momentum and had a ton of guys step up and play really well. I think we really established an identity for ourselves as an offense and defense.”
--This would be the first time that New Orleans has won back-to-back NFC South titles since the division was formed for the 2002 season. “This division has been one where it's highly competitive and each and every year it seems like there is a different team or sets of teams that are all fighting for it at the end and then one of us gets it,” Brees said. “But yeah, that would be a big, big first step if (we) win the division with a win this week.”
--The Saints will have had nine days between games when they play the Bucs after having played three games in the previous 12 days.
BY THE NUMBERS: 91 – That’s the number of receptions Michael Thomas has. The rest of the wide receivers have a combined 60 catches this season. Rookie Tre’Quan Smith (22 catches) is the only other receiver on the active roster with as many as 10 catches. Teams have been devoting more attention to Thomas in recent games because no one else has emerged as a consistent threat to complement Thomas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--T Terron Armstead, who has missed the last four games because of a pectoral injury, returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. It’s unclear if Armstead will be available Sunday, but he said after practice that he was doing everything possible to make himself available. Brees called Armstead “a difference-maker.”
--WR Michael Thomas (ankle) did not practice.
--T Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) was limited.
--DT David Onyemata (hip) was limited.
--FB Zach Line (concussion) practiced fully and said he will play Sunday.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: QB Drew Brees is coming off his worst game of the season, having completed 18-of-28 for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception, just his third of the season. The Saints’ 176 total yards are the fewest since Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006. Neither Brees nor the offense performs poorly very often, but when either happens, Brees usually plays very well the following game and Tampa Bay is 28th in pass defense (274.4 yards per game).
GAME PLAN: Win the turnover battle. This should be fairly easy, given that the Saints plus-9 and the Bucs are minus-18. But during their two-game winning streak, the Buccaneers have six takeaways and have given the ball away just once and in the first meeting the Bucs have two takeaways and the Saints have none. Tampa Bay will need to have an advantage in turnovers to win again. If the Saints are able to avoid a turnover deficit they should be in good shape. They’ll try to get WR Michael Thomas back on track after three relatively quiet games and feed the Bucs a steady dose of Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara. They have 16 sacks in the last four games and hope to continue that kind of pressure to force Jameis Winston into mistakes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Saints CB Marshon Lattimore vs. Bucs WR Mike Evans: These two have had some passionate battles in three meetings since Lattimore entered the league last season. Evans shoved Lattiomore in the back during the first meeting last season when he had just once catch (on six targets) for 13 yards. In the rematch Evans had five catches (on 13 targets) for 55 yards. But in the first meeting this season Evans had a ctach on all seven targets for 147 yards and a touchdown. Evans is always a key to the Bucs’ getting No. 1 pass offense going and Lattimore is always the Saints’ No. 1 weapon in their pass coverage. If either player has an appreciable advantage in this match-up it will be a significant advantage for their team.
Saints offensive line vs. Bucs defensive line: The Saints would receive a boodt if LT Terron Armstead is able to return from his pectoral injury, and the Bucs would receive a boost of DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) is able to play. The Saints prevented Pierre-Paul from getting to Drew Brees in the first game, though Tampa Bay did have one sack. Pierre-Paul has 11.5 sacks since then. New Orleans has allowed an NFL-low 13 sacks, but they gave up two and struggled in pass protection overall against Dallas. If the Saints are going to have the kind of bounce-back performance on offense that they expect, the line will have to play better than it did last time out and do a better job of protecting Brees.