Eyes did not deceive.
In a 9-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints' defense likely slotted in the best submission on a resume that has had several of them in the last few seasons, including three others against Tampa Bay in the previous three games against the Buccaneers.
New Orleans shut out what had been the league's leading scoring offense (31.5 points per game) and gave fits to quarterback Tom Brady, who holds – or will hold – just about every meaningful record for an NFL quarterback if and when he ever retires. Brady completed 26 of 48 passes for 214 yards, but committed two turnovers (and interception and lost fumble) and was sacked four times.
The Saints (7-7) will seek their third consecutive victory against Miami (7-7) on Monday night in the Caesars Superdome, with Miami looking to extend its six-game winning streak.
On Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers were unsuccessful on 13 of 19 third-down attempts, were stopped on their only fourth-down attempt and never reached the red zone against the Saints.
The Saints, with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen serving as acting head coach due to the absence of Coach Sean Payton (Covid-19 protocols after testing positive last Friday), had seven quarterback hits and six passes defensed, and committed just one penalty on defense.
"I think just in general, defensively, I think that's probably as well as we've played," Allen said Monday. "I think our ability to get up on their receivers and disrupt on the line of scrimmage and not allow free access into the defense, I think that in conjunction with our pass rush, which I think affected the quarterback (was exemplary).
"And I think maybe even more than anything else, I thought our tackling was outstanding in the game. There was very little run-after-catch on these completions. There was a lot of catch-tackles when they were able to complete the passes. In that aspect, I thought that was outstanding."
New Orleans effectively smothered Tampa Bay, causing and recovering a fumble on the Bucs deepest drive. But the shutout, and the ability to keep Tampa Bay out of the red zone, wasn't defense-exclusive, Allen said.
"It was a great team win," he said. "And I felt like we played really good on defense. But to be able to do those things, you can't turn the ball over, you have to be able to play the field-position game, you have to be able to pin them down there when you have opportunities to pin them down there and make them go the long, hard way.
"They took over the ball one time on the 43-yard line, and that was the best field position that they had all night, and that was the one opportunity that they had that they missed the field goal (45-yard attempt in the second quarter, which would of halved New Orleans' six-point lead).
"A lot of the things that we felt like we needed to do to win the game, we were able to accomplish."
Allen said the Saints played with emotion and energy, and that until Payton is able to return the team will resume the formula that it utilized for Sunday.
"I think we've got to approach it, really, basically the same way we approached last week," he said. "We all know that we've got a job to do and certainly we're hoping that Coach is back sooner rather than later. But he's prepared all of us for the job at hand.
"Most of us have been with him long enough that we know exactly what's expected of us. The players know exactly what's expected of them. And we kind of operate business as usual, and hopefully we'll have him back in the building sooner rather than later and we'll be following his lead."
But on Sunday, Allen was the leader. It was his first game as head coach since 2014, his final season as coach of the Raiders.
"Certainly I received a lot of texts (after the game), and it's greatly appreciated," he said. "But, again, we're sitting here in the middle of a playoff chase and we really got to just focus in on doing our job and winning the next one.
"I just told the players that when you start paying too much attention to everybody that's patting you on the back, the next thing you know you're going to turn around and there'll be somebody that's going to be kicking you in the butt. That's the way our league works, so we've just got to stick to the process, understand the plan and focus in now on making the corrections from last night and moving on to Miami."