The New Orleans Saints' 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was disappointing on several fronts, not the least of which was the fact that New Orleans lost its season opener for the fifth consecutive year. There was a golden opportunity to open the season with victories in two straight home games; instead, the Saints will need to split the two in order to be .500 before two straight road games. There were a ton of highs and lows in this one, and they were easily identifiable.
OFFENSE: Realistically, the Saints probably can play even better offensively than they did Sunday. No. Honestly, they can – but they'll have a hard time doing it. When you score 40 points, roll up 475 yards, convert four of five times in the red zone and average 8.1 yards per play, you don't expect to lose that game. When your quarterback completes 37 of 45 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, and only is sacked once – and has two 100-yard receivers (Michael Thomas with 180, Alvin Kamara with 112) – you don't expect to lose that game. But the caveat/Kryptonite is this: When you lose two fumbles, one that was returned for a touchdown and the other that likely kept points off the board because it was recovered at the Buccaneers' 32-yard line, those are errors that help you lose that game. As good as the Saints were, there's cleanup to do.
DEFENSE: Now, that was unexpected. Not that the Saints were forecast to open the season as the Steel Curtain reincarnate, or as a mirror image of the '85 Bears defense. But 529 yards and five touchdowns allowed, with a 62 percent conversion rate allowed on third down? It was a level of ineffectiveness that submarined even the most modest expectations. Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick possibly never has been, or again will be, as efficient as he was Sunday against the Saints: 21 of 28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception. Fitzpatrick wasn't sacked, generally wasn't harassed and when the Saints were able to get close to him, they were penalized three times for roughing the passer. Receivers Mike Evans (seven catches, 147 yards and a touchdown) and DeSean Jackson (five catches, 146 yards and two touchdowns) had their way with the secondary and the Bucs averaged 8.5 yards per play. Tampa Bay punted all of one time and had touchdown drives of 68, 75, 78, 74 and 65 yards. In other words, there should be a significant jump defensively from Week 1 to Week 2.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing jumped off the page, so to speak. Two tackles each in coverage by Chris Banjo and Justin Hardee, respectively. A made field goal (36 yards) by Wil Lutz. Effective punting (three, for a 52-yard gross average and 45.7-yard net) by Thomas Morstead. Easy for the unit to operate under the radar in such an offense-tilted game and if there's nothing bad to say, that's a good thing.