The Saints defense feasted, before and after the Bucs’ injuries. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
As it turns out, the answer to the question of “How do you shut down the NFL’s most prolific offense?” was simple.
Just take away four of its top 5 weapons against a defense playing one of its best games of the year.
Trying to keeping pace for the NFL’s top record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell flat on Sunday in a 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, who did just enough to take advantage of a brutal night of injuries in Tampa Bay and improve to 7-7.
The shutout was Tom Brady’s first since 2006, per NFL Research, so long ago that no player on the Saints defense had even entered the NFL. It’s also the first time a Brady team has lost to a team that did not score a touchdown.
The Saints, playing without head coach Sean Payton after he tested positive for COVID-19, got on the board early with a pair of field goals in the first quarter and start of the second quarter. At the time, that hardly felt enough to hold off the NFL’s top-ranked team in points and total yards per game, but the Saints pass rush was at least getting to Brady.
Injuries hit Bucs hard
That defense got more than a little help when the Bucs, already without Antonio Brown due to suspension, lost Pro Bowl wide receivers on back-to-back drives. Chris Godwin exited the game with an ankle injury after a brutal hit to his legs in the open field, then Mike Evans headed to the locker room with a hamstring injury after falling hard on a catch.
Those injuries left the Bucs with only three healthy wide receivers active for the game, and things got even worse in the third quarter when running back Leonard Fournette — third on the team in receptions with 62 entering Sunday — also exited with a hamstring injury. At that point, the only player left on the Bucs with more than 25 receptions this season was tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Despite that considerable headwind, the Buccaneers weren’t left completely toothless. They still had…