Offensive injuries, ineptitude squander sparkling Bucs defensive effort
Amid the tweaked hamstrings, dislodged knee joints and foot ailments, complementary football also became a casualty Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium. Even as the offensive injuries - and frustration - mounted before a national prime-time audience, the Bucs defense played well enough to clinch a division title.

Holding a foe to nine points typically gets it done at any level, except on those nights when the number of field goals surrendered (three) is equaled by the number of starting offensive skill players sidelined by night's end. "Between the offense and the kicking game, it cost us the game," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. "The defense played good enough to win."

Buoyed by the belief that Tom Brady ultimately would salvage a comeback out of this calamitous night, coordinator Todd Bowles' unit never relented in a pesky - if not perfect - effort before a Raymond James Stadium crowd of 65,744.

The Saints gained only 212 total yards (their third-lowest total of the season) and finished 3-of-16 on third down. Subtract a 40-yard strike to Marquez Callaway that set up the Saints' first field goal, and quarterback Taysom Hill had no pass play longer than 9 yards. The Bucs also held Saints running back Alvin Kamara to his second-worst effort of the season (11 carries, 18 yards).

"We wish on the defensive side we could've made a couple more plays," safety Jordan Whitehead said. "We got a couple of turnover (opportunities). We had a pick at the end of the game, we could've picked it. There were a couple of third downs we could've stopped them on. We should put the game on our back. We've got enough guys, enough great players on this defense to put the game on our back."

Perhaps the unit's most glaring flaw, aside from the Callaway completion (with Sean Murphy-Bunting in coverage) was a Hill pass over the middle on second and 11 that went right through the hands of Adams just inside the Bucs 10-yard line.

An interception there, with 8:14 to play, would have provided a final whiff of momentum for Brady and his depleted supporting cast in what remained a one-score game at that point. Instead, Brett Maher nailed a 42-yard field goal two plays later to give the Saints a 9-0 lead with 7:28 to play.

"The defense played well," said rookie edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who finished with four tackles and a sack when he ran down Hill near the Bucs sideline. "But we had a couple of plays where we wish we could have capitalized on, but other than that, it is what it is."

A performance that was equal parts stingy, stone-walling and stout. And in the end, squandered. "It's really disappointing, losing at home especially," Tryon-Shoyinka said. "It is what it is, but there are a lot more games left to be played - a lot more meaningful games left to be played."

Joey Knight, The Tampa Times, published 20 December 2021