Tampa, Fla. – The palm readers in Jackson Square, maybe, saw it coming.
The rest of us? Expecting the New Orleans Saints to play their most complete game of the season, dismantling Tampa Bay 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night, allowing the Saints (6-2) to win their fifth straight game and take command of the NFC South Division standings?
Saints fans would've taken a squeaker. Instead, New Orleans distributed a thorough beatdown for the nation to see, and served notice that it remains a force.
OFFENSE: The Saints weren't mistake free; they lost two fumbles and often, turnovers can be calamitous. But even with the turnovers, the offense sparkled against a Tampa Bay defense that entered the game with some gaudy numbers. The Saints ran for 138 yards against a team that was allowing a league-low 70 per game before Sunday, and Drew Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 222 yards and four defenses against a pass defense that is considered one of the league's up-and-coming units. New Orleans converted 9 of 14 third-down attempts, hogged possession for 40:04 of the 60-minute game, went 5 of 7 in the red zone and basically bullied the Buccaneers (6-3). The Saints had an answer for every question Tampa Bay posed.
DEFENSE: Speaking of bullying, the Saints' defense was stifling from start to finish. There never was a lull moment – no communication busts in the secondary, no forgetting gap adherence, no handful of penalties to put the unit in several bad positions. Sunday's performance was art for a unit that, admittedly, has struggled at times. New Orleans battered Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (22 of 38 for 209 yards, three interceptions and sacked three times) in a way that Brady rarely has been touched up in his Hall of Fame career. And it took away the run (five carries, eight yards for the Buccaneers) partly because the Bucs were forced to play catch-up and abandoned it, and partly because abandoning it was prudent because they weren't gaining any traction. The Saints had a goal-line stand – four stops from the 1-yard line – and limited Tampa Bay to one conversion in nine third-down attempts, no conversions on three fourth-down tries, and no points on its one trip into the red zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The fact is, the special teams units weren't required to do much of anything with the offense and defense handling business in such a lopsided way. Still, Thomas Morstead's one punt was a 51-yarder, Deonte Harris returned three punts for 30 yards and the cover units didn't miss Justin Hardee Sr., allowing 46 yards on two kickoff returns and a yard on one punt return.