The Saints did it again last Sunday.
Playing in their first outdoor game of the 2020 season, New Orleans clinched a third straight win by three points, and fourth overall, thanks to the clutch leg of kicker Wil Lutz.
After missing his first field goal in 29 attempts in the second quarter against Chicago (laces out, Morstead!), "Wil Clutch" nailed a 35-yard field goal in overtime to give New Orleans its latest edge-of-your-seat victory.
The win over the Bears helped New Orleans stay neck-in-neck with current division leader Tampa Bay and added another layer of intrigue to this week's Sunday Night Football matchup between the NFC South rivals.
Saints at Tampa Bay
When to Watch: Sunday, November 8, at 7:20 p.m. on NBC
Brees. Brady. Round two.
After falling to the Saints 23-34 in the season opener, the Tom-pa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) have been on a tear, winning six of their last seven games, including a 38-10 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers. Tampa's only recent hiccup was, ironically, against Chicago, who bested the Buccaneers 20-19, thanks to a serious game-ending brain fart by quarterback Tom Brady.
The six-time Super Bowl winner seems to have regained his New England form, passing for over 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions this season. Tampa's offense boasts the most talented collection of skill players whom Brady has played with in his career, and the veteran quarterback has taken full advantage of the treasure trove of talent at his disposal.
When healthy, the wide receiver combination of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin has proved lethal for opponents of the Buccaneers. Evans has been a touchdown magnet, with seven scoring receptions. Slot receiver Scotty Miller leads the Buccaneers with 400 receiving yards, and Brady's old Patriot teammate, tight end Rob Gronkowski, seems to be rediscovering a bit of his old New England productivity, logging over 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
In the backfield, Brady is joined by a talented pair of running backs. Ronald Jones II had been the primary bell cow, rushing for 529 yards and four touchdowns. After joining the team just prior to the start of the season and battling through injury, New Orleans native Leonard Fournette has shown flashes of brilliance, providing a potent one-two punch for the Buccaneers running game.
To top it off, the Buccaneers recently added another weapon to their offensive arsenal by acquiring mercurial wide receiver Antonio Brown. After a tumultuous 2019 season, in which he started the preseason with Oakland before being released and played one game with the Patriots before being cut, Brown was suspended for the first eight weeks of the season for several violations of the NFL's personal-conduct policy.
Now he's a Buccaneer, and Brady and coach Bruce Arians are hoping to tap into the last vestiges of Brown's talent, with hopefully none of the craziness that defined his previous season.
On paper, the Saints defense should have their hands full with this improved Tampa offense, but New Orleans's defense should be up to the challenge.
The Saints' rush defense has not allowed an opposing running back to get 100 yards in the last 50 games, allowing Jones II just 66 yards in the two teams' first matchup earlier this year. Since that game, defensive end Marcus Davenport returned to the lineup, providing the Saints with another fearsome pass rusher. The loss of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins for a few weeks is a setback for the Saints' front seven, but that unit has proved resilient.
The Saints sacked Chicago quarterback Nick Foles five times last week. If the New Orleans front seven can turn up the pressure and make Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, they'll be doing their secondary a huge favor.
Since their impressive two-interception outing to start the season, the Saints secondary has struggled, giving up big plays and committing costly penalties, but is beginning to show signs of improvement. Inevitably, we'll likely see the blood feud between Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Evans resume this Sunday. Hopefully, snagging his first interception of 2020 last weekend is the spark Lattimore needs to take his play up a notch, because since shutting down Evans in the season opener, his play has been shaky at best.
Defensively, the Buccaneers are one of the nastiest squads in the NFL. Through eight games, Tampa is tied for first in interceptions (11), ranks second in sacks (28), and fourth in quarterback hurries (61).
Former LSU star Devin White is a force of nature at linebacker, having recorded five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss while harassing opposing offenses with impunity. Plus, he likes to ride horses like a boss. White's joined by an intimidating group in the front seven that includes linebackers Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 6.5 sacks of his own, and line-clogger Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle. Antoine Winfield is an emerging playmaker at safety, and cornerback Carlton Davis leads the team with four interceptions.
Fortunately for Drew Brees, the Saints have allowed just nine sacks this season, the second fewest in the NFL. The battle in the trenches will be critical to New Orleans's success on Sunday, and getting rid of the ball quickly will be paramount for Brees against the vaunted Tampa pass rush.
Star running back Alvin Kamara has shouldered much of the offensive playmaking load for the Saints in recent weeks and will need another big game if New Orleans wants to keep their winning streak alive. Kamara leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (987), but New Orleans needs one of its role players to step up yet again if receivers Michael Thomas (ankle/hamstring) and Emmanuel Sanders (COVID) cannot suit up.
Whether it's Taysom Hill, Jared Cook, Deonte Harris, Tre'Quan Smith, or some guy they just signed from the practice squad, expect some big plays from the supporting cast.
This week marks the Saints' toughest opponent since their last appearance on Sunday Night Football against Green Bay earlier this season. Tom-pa Bay will want revenge, and Brady will want to try and maintain his career touchdown lead over Brees. The Saints want sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
For everyone watching at home, it's perhaps the final time to watch two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history duel on the gridiron.
Prediction: Saints 31, Buccaneers 28