Saints slide backward into postseason

Well, so much for the idea of going into the postseason with some positive momentum.

The Saints played inconsistent football — at best — in all three phases of the game in Sunday’s 31–24 loss to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Although the offense didn’t turn the ball over, they turned in a disheartening and stagnant showing. Drew Brees and Co. failed to sustain drives against the leagues 31st ranked defense. Most disturbingly, New Orleans couldn’t pick up crucial first downs in the fourth quarter with chance to put the game on ice.

The special team unit committed two glaring errors. With three minutes left in the first half, the Saints lined up to attempt a 47-yard field goal but ended up pitching the ball to kicker Wil Lutz who was popped short of the first down marker.

Then, less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Tommylee Lewis fumbled a punt return at his own 7-yard line that Isaiah Johnson scooped and scored for a touchdown. The momentum change resulting from that play proved insurmountable.

However, the most discouraging development from the loss was the surprisingly poor play of the defense.

The unit was shredded by turnover-prone Jameis Winston for 345 yards and 19 passing first downs. Zone looks were torn apart by anonymous receivers Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin as each tallied over 100 yards receiving.

Tampa Bay converted on an astonishing 13 of 18 third downs — a 72% clip. At one point in the second half, they were 12–14 on such downs. Whenever stops were needed, there were none to be had.

The defensive shortcomings came to a summit with 9 seconds remaining in the game when Godwin torched cornerback Ken Crawley for a 39-yard game-winning touchdown.

Despite the poor showing, the Saints clinched the NFC South and secured themselves a home playoff game on the day because Carolina lost to Atlanta.

But on a day that should feel like a success — a culmination of a season’s worth of hard work — the NFC South champs can’t help but feel like they’re headed right back to the drawing board.