By Leo Haggerty


New Orleans bolted to a 31-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 38-3 pasting of Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium Sunday night.  The victory propelled the 6-2 Saints into first place in the National Football Conference South Division a half game ahead of the 6-3 Buccaneers.

The team from The Big Easy jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter advantage and, frankly, it could have been worse for the Bucs.  After a Tampa Bay punt on the opening drive of the contest, the Saints went 65 yards in 9 plays that took 4:32.  QB Drew Brees found WR Tre’Quan Smith all alone in the back right corner of the end zone at 9:34 of the opening period.  K Wil Lutz converted to give NO an early 7-0 advantage.

The Saints immediately forced the Bucs into another three-and-out and promptly march deep into Pewter Pirate territory.  TE Jared Cook was dislodged of the pigskin at the Tampa Bay 2 yard by S Jordan Whitehead and the ball was recovered by LB Lavonte David keeping the score at 7-0.

Sadly, all that turnover did was delay the agony for the Buccaneers.  As their offense sputtered again after three plays, New Orleans took advantage of a short field and cracked the scoreboard again as the first quarter ended.  Brees connected with TE Adam Trautman with a seven yard strike that culminated a five play drive that took 2:38 to go 35 yards.  Lutz again converted the PAT and the Saints increased their margin to 14-zip.

The Saints added to their lead at 11:44 of the second period.  After the Buccaneers fourth consecutive three-and-out, NO took advantage of good field position again after a good punt return by WR Deonte Harris to midfield.  This time Brees located WR Emmanuel Sanders for a 12 yard scoring toss.  The drive took only 2:23 to go 50 yards in five plays.  Lutz was true again and the Saints went ahead by a count of 21-0.

The good news was that the Pewter Pirates finally did not have a three-and-out on their next possession.  The bad news is that the Buccaneers turned the football over.

QB Tom Brady, who had his worst game as Buccaneers quarterback (22-of-38 for 209 yards with 3 INTs and no TDs along with being sacked 3 times) to date, was intercepted by DT David Onyemata.  New Orleans made the Bucs pay for that miscue with 8:45 left in the second quarter.  This time is was by the overland route with RB Alvin Kamara doing the honors from a yard away.  Lutz was good again with the PAT and Saints widened their lead to 28-0.

The Bucs offense finally got out of neutral but to no avail.  TB turned the ball over on downs and the Saints scored again with1:49 left before halftime.  This time it was Lutz connecting from 36 yards out to finish off an eight play drive that took 3:08 to go 44 yards and that pushed the New Orleans advantage to 31-0.

The second half was more of a defensive battle.  After a scoreless third period, NO turned their third interception, this time by safety Malcolm Jenkins, into points with 9:07 left in the tilt.  The Saints methodically moved 70 yards in 10 plays eating up 6:50 of clock time with Brees throwing his fourth TD pass of the evening this time to, ironically, backup QB Taysom Hill. Once again Lutz was good with the PAT stretching the New Orleans lead to 38-nil.

The Bucs prevented a whitewashing on their next possession by finally denting the scoreboard at 5:52 of the fourth quarter. The Pewter Pirates took 3:15 to move 45 yards in seven plays with K Ryan Succop splitting the uprights to make the score 38-3 and that would be the final arithmetic.

This was a game where you don’t want to read too much into the outcome.  You have at least one, and possibly two, clunkers throughout the NFL season where one teams can do no wrong and the other can’t do anything right.

I believe that’s what happened to the Bucs.  I don’t expect that to happen against Carolina this weekend but make sure you catch Senior Writer Rob Kriete’s Buc up column on Saturday for his analysis of what he believes will transpire in Charlotte Sunday.  See you around the TV then.