The Buccaneers entered Week 15 having scored at least 30 points in four straight games. On Sunday night, they scored zero.
No opponent has haunted Tom Brady since his relocation to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite like the Saints, and that trend continued in Sunday’s prime-time rematch of NFC South foes. With coach Sean Payton sidelined due to COVID-19 and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen filling in, New Orleans dominated a night riddled with key Bucs injuries — Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin all left Sunday’s matchup — handing Brady just his third career shutout in a 9-0 victory, denting Tampa Bay’s shot at the NFC’s No. 1 seed and shaking up the conference’s wild card race.
Tom Brady has been shut out for the 3rd time in his career and the first time since 2006. pic.twitter.com/fKFE0KhLPl
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 20, 2021
Defense, defense, defense. It was fitting that Allen got the nod as acting head coach for this game, because his unit owned the night. Play this game against most other playoff contenders, and New Orleans might not get away with its sloppy offensive performance — Taysom Hill never found any rhythm, and Alvin Kamara was stuffed on the ground. But man did they come to play when Brady’s side had the ball. With four sacks — two from Cameron Jordan — and a number of other physical plays up front, including a killer strip of Brady on a late scramble, they just looked nastier in a game that always figured to be feisty. On the back end, they were just as strong, capitalizing on the absence of Evans and Godwin to stay on top of routes and, ultimately, seal the victory with a rangy pick from professional trash-talker C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Injuries certainly didn’t help them. Fournette, Godwin and Evans are literally Brady’s top three playmakers, and all three exited and did not return, raising questions about how much Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich can comfortably lean on guys like Ronald Jones and the returning Antonio Brown moving forward. But Brady wasn’t great on his own in this one, firing a number of off-target shots into the dirt and turning the ball over twice down the stretch. He was pressing for obvious reasons, but still, this further proves he can be solved if the Saints are on the other sideline. The one unit that can’t be blamed much for this loss is Todd Bowles’ defense, which had no trouble stymieing Hill and New Orleans’ ground game throughout the night.
The Bucs stumbled offensively all night, but they finally appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough late in the third, with Jones ripping off back-to-back long runs in place of the injured Fournette. Starting at their own 19 and advancing all the way to New Orleans’ 24, the Bucs proceeded to cough up the ball on a third-and-7 scramble from Brady, who eluded pressure to find an opening but didn’t see Jordan approaching from behind. The lost fumble ended any shot at points on that drive and kept the Saints in front for good.