Momentum shifts weren’t lacking in the New Orleans Saints’ 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the highest scoring season opener in NFL history. The teams combined to score 11 touchdowns and totaled 1,004 yards in a game that wasn’t decided until Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – on third-and-11 from the Tampa Bay 24-yard line with 2:42 left – scrambled left for 12 yards and the clinching first down.
But flip the script back to the second quarter to find a play that was detrimental, and pivotal, for the Saints.
The teams traded blows in the game’s first six possessions, with each scoring two touchdowns and a field goal, before the Saints finally were forced to punt. The Bucs then scored for the fourth consecutive possession, courtesy of a Fitzpatrick touchdown pass, to take a 24-17 lead.
With the Saints looking to counter that punch, their next possession began at their 32-yard line due to a bit of good fortune: Tommylee Lewis was upended after a 19-yard kickoff return to the Saints’ 17, but the Bucs were penalized 15 yards for a low block to give New Orleans solid field position.
In a flash, it was gone.
Running back Mike Gillislee, added to the roster the previous Sunday, took a handoff around the left end and was hammered by Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves’ tackle jarred loose the ball and it perfectly bounced for safety Justin Evans, who scooped it and easily scored to give Tampa Bay a 31-17 lead with 4:27 left in the first half.
New Orleans scored on its next possession to pull to within 31-24 at halftime, but that gift score for the Bucs loomed large for the remainder of the game.