New Orleans, La. - The Tampa Buccaneers got off to a losing start, handing the woeful New York Jets a victory on a silver platter last Sunday. But they are next up for the Saints. It is a division opponent. And, it will be played on the road. None of which is to be toyed with.
The Buccaneers have been trying to get out of their own way almost since the OTAs. Quarterback Josh Freeman was sacked nine times and fumbled once during the preseason. No picks, but also no touchdown passes. As an offense, they converted a piddling 32 percent of their attempts.
It got no better in the season opener against the Jets. Apparently, among other issues, there was a problem with the helmet headsets, so coach Greg Sciano had trouble communicating with Freeman and getting plays into the huddle.
And then, the trouble at the end. Leading the Jets 17-15 with 34 seconds to play, linebacker Levonte David hits Geno Smith out of bounds. The personal foul got New York within field goal range. The dagger, and the 18-17 loss.
On paper and in fact, The Bucs look like a hot mess. But maybe the hot part may be the best thing working for them Sunday. September means hot and muggy outside in the Tampa Bay area. But, the Saints seem to be in excellent condition as a team.
Another thing to bear in mind: This game will be a test for the Saints from a psychological point of view -- keeping it consistent the week after a major victory to open the season over Atlanta.
And, there's this: For whatever reason, and no matter the final score, the Saints have had to struggle, for the most part, in games played at Raymond James Stadium. The Black and Gold has a good, healthy respect for the challenge.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma observes: "This is Greg Sciano's second year with them, and I expect he's going to work them. He did a great job at Rutgers on the college level, and now he's coming in and trying to implement that same concept - that same program. I do see a lot of first-rounders on defense. Vincent Jackson from last year did a phenomenal job for them. Josh Freeman is a first-rounder, of course. So I'm looking at a group that's very young, very talented. I don't know how well they've meshed, gelled, or come together, I don't know who their leaders are. But, I do know they can get after you. They were number one in rush defense last year. They've revamped up their secondary with the addition of Derelle Reivis. So we're in for a battle."
A little history for you, just for grins: In 1977, the two teams played for the first time. The Bucs expanded into the league and were 0-26 under coach John McKay. Mckay read his team a quote from an article where Archie Manning said it would be a disgrace to lose to Tampa Bay. Six interceptions and a lost fumble later, the Saints had lost 33-14.
After the game, Saints head coach Hank Stram said,"What a nightmare. It was the worst experience of my coaching career. We're all ashamed for our people, for our fans, for our organization."