NEW ORLEANS (AP)When the New Orleans Saints gathered Monday to review footage of their stunning shutout victory at Tampa Bay, defensive coordinator and acting head coach Dennis Allen offered players his thoughts on keeping their extraordinary performance in perspective.
”I just told the players … that when you start paying too much attention to everybody that’s patting you on the back, the next thing you know, you’re going to turn around and there’ll be somebody that’s going to be kicking you in the butt,” said Allen, who is filling in while coach Sean Payton is isolated from the team because of a positive COVID-19 test last week.
This has been a turbulent season for the Saints (7-7), rife with injuries to prominent players and vacillating results that would seem counterintuitive.
Four of their losses have come against teams that entered Monday with losing records: Atlanta (6-8), Carolina (5-9), the New York Giants (4-10) and Philadelphia (6-7). Four of their victories have come against division leaders: Green Bay (11-3), New England (9-5) and Tampa Bay (10-4) twice.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has played some of its best football against the Buccaneers since Tom Brady left New England for Tampa Bay in 2020.
The Saints are now 4-0 in the regular season against Brady’s Bucs, including a 38-3 victory in Tampa last season. In those four games, Brady has 10 turnovers combined – eight interceptions and two lost fumbles, including one of each in New Orleans’ 9-0 victory on Sunday night.
The Saints found their latest triumph particularly gratifying because they overcame not only the absence of their head coach, but also several key players including starting offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.
While the Saints managed just three field goals on offense, they closed out the game comfortably because their defense shut out an offense that came into the game leading the NFL in scoring. The Saints’ offense never turned over the ball and managed the clock competently down the stretch. And New Orleans’ special teams denied the Bucs any significant field position advantages.
For those reasons, Allen made the unusual post-game decision to have the whole team share a game ball rather than merely recognizing standout individual performances.
”This was not a normal situation,” Allen said, emphasizing that the victory was a product of players and coaches all having the requisite sense of purpose to ”come together, band together and do whatever it took and whatever was necessary to win the game.”
But as Allen also stressed, it was only one game.
There are three left, and faltering in any of them could cost New Orleans a trip to the playoffs.
”We don’t have time for a bunch of fairy-tale stories or anything like that,” Allen said. ”We’re sitting here in the middle of a playoff chase and we really got to just focus in on doing our job and winning the next one.”
The defensive line has experimented with four-man fronts featuring three defensive ends. And when their top pass rushers are healthy, as they were last night, that can cause major problems for pocket passers like Brady.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Saints quarterback Taysom Hill needs to develop more trust in his pass protection. He often appeared apprehensive about stepping up in the pocket, and as a result found himself either making difficult throws off his back foot or scrambling outside where he had to throw the ball away as defenders swarmed around him. He finished 13 of 27 for 154 yards.
Receiver Marquez Callaway had six catches for 112 yards, making him the first Saints player to cross the 100-yard receiving threshold in a game since Michael Thomas – who has missed this entire season with an ankle injury – had 105 yards against Atlanta on Dec. 5, 2020.
While tight end Nick Vannett had played well in recent weeks, he regressed at Tampa Bay. Hill seemed to have trouble getting him the ball, throwing to him only once. On that play, the ball bounced off Vannett’s hands on what could have been a substantial gain into Bucs territory.
The Saints’ running game managed just 61 net yards rushing against Tampa Bay without Armstead and Ramczyk in the lineup. Both are adept at blocking on the types of outside running plays and screens at which dynamic running back Alvin Kamara thrives. Ramczyk (knee) has missed five straight games, while Armstead has been in and out of the lineup in recent weeks.
0 – The number of touchdowns Brady and the Bucs have produced in their past two home games against New Orleans, during which Tampa Bay has scored a combined total of three points.
The Saints prepare for a clash of 7-7 teams on the fringe of their respective conference playoff races in a Monday night matchup when they host Miami on Dec. 27. The Dolphins will enter the Superdome riding a six-game winning streak.
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