(Sports Network) - The margin for error is gone in Tampa.
A disheartening last second loss to moribund Philadelphia has put the
Buccaneers' playoff hopes on life support as they get ready to visit the Big
Easy to take on the slumping New Orleans Saints.
Tampa Bay will have to win out from here on out and get plenty of help
elsewhere starting Sunday. Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles dealt the Bucs
a serious blow when he found Jeremy Maclin for a 1-yard touchdown as time
expired to lift Philly past the Buccaneers, 23-21, in Week 14.
It was the third straight loss by a combined 11 points for the hard-luck Bucs
as they fell further behind in the NFC playoff race despite rookie Doug
Martin's 128 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"We have to find a way to make more plays and score more points," said Tampa
Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. "That is what the game is all about, winning and
losing. Any time you lose a close one it is going to be pretty rough."
The Bucs are two games behind wild-card leaders Seattle and Chicago with three
to play and must jump over four other teams as well.
"Right now, we're playing for a lot," Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said.
The Saints haven't been officially eliminated from the postseason either but
they can forget about any miracles after getting destroyed, 52-27, by the New
York Giants last Sunday
New Orleans gave up a franchise-worst 287 yards on six kickoff returns,
including a 97- yard touchdown in the first quarter as it fell to 5-7 on the
Drew Brees passed for 354 yards and a touchdown while completing 26-of-43
attempts in the setback but was intercepted twice as the Saints suffered
their third straight loss.
Darren Sproles recorded both a rushing and receiving touchdown for New
Orleans, with Joseph Morgan accumulating 106 yards on only two catches.
"That was an embarrassment today, what took place on the football field," said
a frustrated Saints coach Joe Vitt. "It starts with me and that's where the
blame should go. I didn't do a good enough job of getting this football team
New Orleans has won two straight over Tampa Bay and leads the all-time series
24-17, including a 35-28 win in Central Florida on Oct. 21 behind Brees' four
touchdown Passes. Freeman threw for a career-best 420 yards and three TDs in
The Saints will be looking for their first series sweep against the Buccaneers
since the 2006 season, and their third since the NFC South was established in
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
About the only good news for New Orleans came off the field when former NFL
commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced his ruling in the Saints bounty case and
vacated all player discipline previously issued by current commissioner Roger
Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita were all
suspended by Goodell in May for their roles in the bounty program from
2009-2011. Vilma had been suspended for the entire 2012 season, while Hargrove
was originally given an eight-game penalty. Smith was banned for four games
and Fujita was slapped with a three-game suspension.
Each of the four players were permitted to play while the appeals process
Vilma was hurt to begin the season and rejoined the Saints in late October,
while Smith has played all 13 games for New Orleans. Fujita played four games
for Cleveland this season before a neck problem forced him to injured reserve,
while Hargrove remains a free agent who has not played this year.
"We're happy that our players have been vindicated, (and) their suspensions
vacated," Vitt said.
On the field Brees has struggled mightily in his last two games, throwing just
one touchdown versus seven interceptions and compiling an uncharacteristic
53.8 passer rating.
"Each of these games is so important, still so important, because we have a
lot of prideful guys," Brees said. "We're not about to shut it down and feel
like the season is lost. There's still a lot that can be done."
As bad as Brees has been, however, the bigger problem in NOLA has been the
defense, which has given up 436.9 yards per game, something that doesn't bode
well against a balanced, high-powered offense like Tampa Bay.
Martin is second in the NFL with 1,612 scrimmage yards and tied for the NFC
lead with 10 TDs.
"This (running) back (Doug Martin) is doing a heck of a job right now," Vitt
said. "I don't know that I've seen a back in the league this year in the
National Football League make more yards after contact than he does."
Freeman, meanwhile, has thrown for 1,259 yards and eights TDs with no picks in
his last four games versus the Saints, while Vincent Jackson had seven catches
for a career-high 216 yards the last time the two teams met.
"The passing game is a little bit different," Vitt said. "There's lots of
double moves. This is an offense that is eighth in the league right now in
quick strikes. We know what Vincent Jackson can do. He's having a heck of a
year. Right now he's third in the league of catches in 20-plus yards and he's
leading the league where every time he touches the ball it's a 20-yard
Since 2002, 14 of the 21 games between these two clubs have been decided by a
touchdown or less, so this one figures to be close.
New Orleans needs a win this week coupled with losses by Chicago, Seattle and
Washington just to stay alive for another week. A tight victory is likely but
you can forget the rest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 23, Bucs 20
The Sports Network