Saints survive, Bucs cruise, Falcons blow lead (again); see where things stand after Week 7 | Saints

The Saints are surviving without several key players while the Bucs’ offensive machine rolls on — with yet another weapon soon to join —  but New Orleans remains in excellent shape to contend for its fourth consecutive NFC South title.

By virtue of playing an extra game thus far, the Bucs sit a half-game clear of the Saints for the division lead — but that’ll change one way or another when those teams meet up in Week 9 to decide the season series.

It’s possible that embattled wide receiver Antonio Brown is active for that game after signing a one-year deal with the Bucs earlier this week.

But first let’s recap what happened in Week 7 around the division and the NFL — complete with the Falcons finding a stunning new way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — and look ahead to what key games are on tap next week. 


If success in the NFL is about how teams go about solving unexpected problems, then New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton’s method is to plug a…

IN THE NFC SOUTH

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1ST | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, 5-2 

• WEEK 7, WIN: Bucs 45, Raiders 20

• WHAT HAPPENED: The Bucs machine keeps rolling, this time over the Raiders. After a loss to the Bears in Week 5, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay have won two straight, outscoring the Packers and Raiders 83-30 in the process.

But this one wasn’t nearly as lopsided as the score makes it appear. The Bucs led just 24-20 midway through the fourth quarter before Brady connected with Chris Godwin on his third of four touchdown passes. An interception and turnover on downs set up a pair of late Bucs scores to put the game out of reach.

Brady’s touchdowns lofted him past Drew Brees on the all-time touchdown list, with one more game played on the season. The pair likely will swap that record over the course of the season.

His prettiest throw came late in the first half, hitting Scotty Miller for a 33-yard touchdown with just seconds remaining.

The Bucs remain in first place in the division by percentage points due to their extra game played. Tampa Bay doesn’t have its bye until Week 13, meaning it can hold onto that top spot with a win over a floundering Giants squad in Week 8.

Then comes the showdown in Week 9 against the Saints, which holds major implications in the divisional race. A Bucs win would mean a tie in head-to-head record, which would then shift a potential tiebreaker to divisional record, which would again be even at 2-1 apiece.

The next tiebreaker would then be the best win-lost-tied percentage in common games, which the Bucs now own a significant advantage in by virtue of defeating the two teams (Packers and Raiders) that have beaten the Saints this season.

• NEXT UP: at New York Giants (1-6)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s four passing touchdowns on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders leapfrogged him ahead of New Orle…


2ND | NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 4-2

• WEEK 7, WIN: Saints 27, Panthers 24

• WHAT HAPPENED: What’s the opposite of smooth sailing? Because that’s what the Saints have had the past two weeks as they eked out a pair of wins by 3 points apiece, this time over the Panthers after a 65-yard field goal attempt fell just short.

The Saints got the better of former backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in his return to New Orleans despite the Saints being without their top two wide receivers in Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and losing left tackle Terron Armstead to an injury in the first half.

Rookie Marquez Callaway had a coming-out party with 8 catches for 75 yards, Deonte Harris grabbed four balls for 46 yards and a touchdown, Kamara did his thing with 148 yards from scrimmage and Drew Brees was a hyper-efficient 29-of-36 for 287 yards and two passing touchdowns, along with a 1-yard dive for another score.

His second touchdown was of the clutch variety, much like Brady’s above, as he drove the field for a touchdown with seconds to spare before halftime.

The touchdown reception was the first of Harris’ career.

But unlike Brady’s Bucs, the Saints have a touch matchup with the NFC North-leading Bears in Week 8. The game holds potential tiebreaker implications for the Saints as a common game the Bucs lost — which could play a factor if the NFC South tiebreaker gets to that point. The Saints can wrap up that tiebreaker regardless with a win in week 9.

• NEXT UP: at Chicago Bears (5-1)


3RD | CAROLINA PANTHERS, 3-4

• WEEK 7, LOSS: Saints 27, Panthers 24

• WHAT HAPPENED: In short, the Saints’ best defender continued to be the field goal uprights. This time they managed to stay just far enough away that Joey Slye’s on-target attempt from 65 yards out fell just shy of reaching them.

But it was also Marcus Davenport’s clutch sack that forced such a long attempt in the first place, helping to foil what was otherwise an impressive return to New Orleans for Bridgewater, going 23-28 for 254 yards and two touchdowns, including a 74-yard bomb to DJ Moore in the first half.

In the second half the Panthers’ offense bogged down a bit, but had enough juice to tie the score at 24 on a 5-yard touchdown to Curtis Samuel. Saints kicker Wil Lutz then knocked through a go-ahead field goal from 41 yards that set up the final Panthers’ drive.

And that drive was not without additional entertainment, with Bridgewater running to the sideline after throwing the ball away and finding a seat next to Brees and Taysom Hill on the Saints’ bench.

In all it ended up as another tough loss as the Panthers continue to play without star running back Christian McCaffrey. But they now turn to face a team with even greater difficulties in winning tight games.

• NEXT UP: vs Atlanta Falcons (1-6)

There were no chants of “Ted-dy, Ted-dy” this time around.


4TH | ATLANTA FALCONS, 1-6

• WEEK 7, LOSS: Lions 24, Falcons 23

• WHAT HAPPENED: The Falcons happened. The nightmare season continues, with Atlanta seemingly able to find bizarre new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory week after week.

This time it came in the form of running back Todd Gurley scoring a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, with the Lions wanting nothing more than for him to do just that. Gurley attempted to stop himself but was unsuccessful as he tumbled into the end zone to put the Falcons up four points — leaving time on the clock for a rebuttal.  

But still, the Falcons were successful on a 2-point conversion and went up 22-16 with less than a minute remaining. It couldn’t possibly happen ag… oh, never mind. 

B-r-u-t-a-l. The Falcons, having already fired their coach and GM already this season, have a much greater chance of landing the top overall pick than the NFC South title.

• NEXT UP: at Carolina Panthers (3-4)

The New Orleans Saints have had an up-and-down first five weeks of their 2020 season, but the same can’t be said for the local TV ratings.


AROUND THE LEAGUE

UPSETS

•  Cardinals 37, Seahawks 34 (OT): If you didn’t stay up late to watch this one, you missed out. Despite a huge game from Tyler Lockett, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray led the Cardinals back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a win in overtime. And it wasn’t even that simple, with kicker Zane Gonzalez missing on his first attempt at a game-winner, only for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to throw an interception on the next possession, setting up a redemption kick. 

The result is a big one for the Saints, with no unbeaten teams remaining in the NFC. With two losses and only one bye in the playoffs, the Saints would need at least one more loss from the Seahawks, Packers and Bears to have any chance at landing it.

Some day at Saints trivia night you may get a question that can be correctly answered with: Marquez Callaway.


EYE-OPENERS & TOUGH BREAKS

• Steelers 27, Titans 24: There is now just one unbeaten team left in all of football, and they play in Pittsburgh. Apparently if you’re an old quarterback with a “B” name (Brees, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger) age limitations do not apply in quite the same way.

Browns 37, Bengals 34: There were two different tough breaks in this game, one for each side and both involving former LSU stars. The first came for the Browns, who despite winning the game will be without star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the rest of the season due to a torn ACL. 

The second tough break came for the Bengals and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who appeared to have won the shootout game late in regulation only to have Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield drive for a game-winning score. A desperation heave by Burrow fell incomplete as the clock expired.


STILL TO PLAY

• Bears at Rams, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)

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