What’s that? Five wins IN A ROW? Here’s what I have to say about that:
Bucs 16 – Saints 11
This isn’t to say that my boys didn’t make me sweat a little. With four weeks to go and the NFC South Division – hell, the NFC, period – fairly knotted up going into the season’s final quarter, pretty much every game is arguably a must win from here on out. This was particularly true for Tampa, given that they’re running neck and neck with division rival Atlanta and with the Falcons holding a tie-breaker, at least for the moment. Atlanta beat the Rams, which is to say they stomped their guts into powder, and even the beleaguered Carolina Panthers won today, because why not?
So the Bucs needed another win.
“Defense” was the word of the day in Raymond James Stadium earlier this afternoon, with both sides doing their best to stifle each other’s offensive attack. The Bucs had the edge in this department, with an increasingly effective unit stuffing the Saints’ running game and holding them to less than 50 yards rushing. They also picked off league leader Drew Brees three times, and held him to no touchdown passes on the day. The third interception came in the last moments of the game when Brees was trying to engineer another of his legendary comeback scoring drives, and for the second week in a row Tampa safety Keith Tandy was on hand to snatch the ball and secure the win.
Meanwhile, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had a decent if not spectacular day, completing 16 of 26 passes for 180 yards. More importantly? No interceptions. In fact, Tampa didn’t give up the ball once. Not too shabby, right? Running back Doug Martin had a solid day, leading the Bucs running game with 66 rushing yards and the game’s only touchdown.
This latest win increases Tampa’s win streak to 5, and their overall record improves to 8-5 on the year, tied with the Falcons. New Orleans drops to 5-8, tied with Carolina to round out the division race. If the season ended today, Tampa would still have one of the Wild Card spots for the NFC playoffs. But with three weeks to go, enough teams are still in the hunt and close enough to keep things interesting. However, the Bucs control their own destiny with a simple formula: keep on winning.
Piece of cake, amirite?
Next up? Tampa travels to Texas to take on the Cowboys. Before tonight, I was all set to live with the notion that the Bucs might not get past Dallas, but as I write this, their 11-game winning streak just got snapped by the Giants. The G-men used their defense to keep that contest a close, low-scoring affair, and suddenly I’m wondering if this same formula that the Bucs have all but perfected–coupled with another solid effort by Winston, Martin, and the Tampa O–might not be enough to see them through?
I’m not ready to start trash-talking just yet, but I’ll still be excited for next week’s game, which has been bumped to prime time and a national telecast in the form of NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
See you next week!