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Timely contributions by each unit fuel New Orleans Saints victory over Tampa Bay in season opener

Offense produced three touchdowns, defense scored once, special teams blocked a field goal

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints playing host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.
Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints playing host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.

It wasn't a masterpiece; those rarely happen in season openers, even when a team has the benefit of having played four preseason games.

But the New Orleans Saints' 34-23 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was a testament to what can be accomplished, and overcome, when each unit makes timely plays and picks up the others.

Whatever areas of dissatisfaction that the Saints will address, can be addressed as talking points in victory, and that's always superior to the alternative.

OFFENSE: Some credit has to be given to Tampa Bay's defense, because the Buccaneers looked much improved from last season, when they were more apt to be shredded by an opposing passing offense. New Orleans totaled 271 yards, was just 3 of 6 in the red zone and found Tampa Bay's run defense to be as stingy as expected (34 carries, 82 yards for the Saints). But the Saints were efficient enough (no turnovers) and they didn't commit a single offensive penalty. Drew Brees wasn't over-the-moon with his performance (18 of 30 for 160 yards and two touchdowns) and Coach Sean Payton said his play-calling left a lot to be desired, but concerns about the Saints' offense usually disappear quickly. The kinks will be worked out. Tight end Jared Cook was a favored target, and that was wise (five catches for a game-high 80 yards).

DEFENSE: The 23 points allowed is deceiving. The last six of them were a late touchdown, when the Saints were comfortably ahead and forcing the Bucs to burn time. New Orleans' defense gave a glimpse of what it can be this season, with two interceptions – including a 36-yard pick-six by cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins – and three sacks, while holding Tampa Bay to 310 yards. Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore were outstanding in coverage: Jenkins added nine tackles, and Lattimore blanketed Mike Evans again (1 catch for 2 yards) in one of the best games by Saints starting cornerbacks in ages. New Orleans limited Tampa Bay to 86 rushing yards and any time a defense can do to Bucs quarterback Tom Brady what the Saints did to him, it deserves all the praise it receives.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Overall, New Orleans had the most complete special teams units in the league last season, and 2020 began as well as 2019 unfolded. Defensive lineman Margus Hunt blocked a field-goal attempt (three points saved) and receiver Bennie Fowler III recovered a fumbled kickoff (three points added). Returner Deonte Harris returned four punts for 59 yards, kicker Wil Lutz made a couple of short field goals, five of Thomas Morstead's six punts landed inside the 20 and on the one punt return Tampa Bay attempted, defensive back Justin Hardee Sr. wrapped up for no gain. It was an outstanding effort, top to bottom.

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