The last time the New Orleans Saints visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers they handed Tom Brady the worst loss of his career, a 38-3 shocker on Sunday Night Football last season.
Those teams meet again in Tampa on Sunday Night Football this week.
But things have changed dramatically since that meeting.
In 2020, the Saints’ victory gave them a firm grip on first place in the NFC South and they went on to win the division.
But Brady and the Buccaneers turned things around and beat the Saints in a divisional playoff on their way to the Super Bowl title.
Then Drew Brees retired. Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury and now Tampa Bay (10-3) can end the New Orleans’ streak of four consecutive NFC South titles by winning Sunday.
The Saints (6-7) are scrambling just to stay in the wild-card race.
“Obviously, we are playing for a division championship next week, which is pretty exciting for all of us,” Brady said of what would be Tampa Bay’s first division title since 2007.
The Buccaneers looked like they were going to rout Buffalo last Sunday when they took a 24-3 halftime lead, but the Bills rallied to force overtime. On the second possession of the extra period, Brady threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman for a 33-27 victory.
“I would much rather not have it come down to that, but in the end, they all count the same,” Brady said.
The Buccaneers, planning a “Red Out” with fans wearing the color Sunday, are getting healthier after a rash of injuries.
They held a walk-through Wednesday and projected that cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Richard Sherman, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and running back Leonard Fournette all would have missed a full practice.
“It takes all 53 (players) and the 48 that dress on Sunday,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “In big, big games it’s going to take every single hand.”
The Saints also are seeing their unusually long list of players sidelined by injury start to shrink.
They got running back Alvin Kamara, tackle Terron Armstead and defensive end Marcus Davenport back last week and ended a five-game losing streak with a 30-9 road victory against the New York Jets.
“We needed a win,” Davenport said, “and it’s one of those things where even though we got the win, we know we still weren’t where we want it to be and it’s just only a step in the right direction.”
Last week’s victory was New Orleans’ first since Halloween when they defeated the Bucs in the game in which Winston was injured.
“It seems like it’s been a while since we played last,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “Obviously both teams have changed since then, and there will be a lot of new faces in this game.”
The Saints’ running game got back on track against the Jets. New Orleans rushed for 203 yards, Kamara had 120 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Taysom Hill added 73 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’d gone through a stretch where we had lost a few,” Payton said. “(Kamara) brings so much not just to the field, but there’s an element of confidence that he brings with him and that carries over to the offense.”
The Saints’ chances of winning the division are all but gone. However, a win Sunday would be a significant boost with remaining games against Miami, Carolina and Atlanta.
“We know we’re playing a good team,” Payton said. “We’re playing the team just won the Super Bowl that’s playing outstanding and playing very well at home.”
–Field Level Media