Last week, for the first time ever with Drew Brees
under center at home, the New Orleans Saints didn't score a touchdown.
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, it wasn't as if the Saints were facing the 2002 Buccaneers or the 2013 Seahawks defenses. The Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday's tilt with a defense ranked 30th in yards allowed, 24th in total points given up, 31st in red zone defense and dead last in sacks.
"The Saints got walloped by that one-winged bird," Patra wrote, "giving up six sacks and never punching it across the end zone line."
"Unacceptable," Brees said bluntly on Wednesday, describing the loss.
It's one thing to lose a game. Teams lose over the course of the season. It's another to lay an egg at home against a division rival who had been left for dead on the side of the road, entering the game with one win on the season.
"We were extremely disappointed in our performance," Brees said. "I think we know we're a lot better than that and understand that, especially at this point in the season, this is a time when we really want to start separating ourselves from the pack in a positive way and continuing to position ourselves to achieve the goals that we have set for this team."
The loss doubly hurts after watching San Francisco fall on Monday night, knowing New Orleans could have taken a step toward securing a potential No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. The failure, pushing the Saints to 7-2, now currently places Brees' team behind Green Bay for playoff bye positioning.
"We understand that every game you've got to show up and you have to play your best and what comes with that is great attention to detail, great execution, great focus and intensity," Brees said. "And unfortunately our execution just was not up to standard across the board. That needs to get cleaned up and it will get cleaned up and as a result, we'll play a lot better."
If failing to score against Atlanta's 30th-ranked pass defense proved hard, maybe facing the 32nd-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass D tomorrow will provide a reprieve.
Statistically the Bucs give up a ton of yards. Where they are particularly bad is defending the deep pass.
Unfortunately for Brees, the Saints' offense is vertically challenged.
Among 33 qualifying QBs this season, the two with the fewest air yards per attempt: Brees (6.3) and Teddy Bridgewater
The lack of a deep receiving threat is a big part of the issue, but the restraint on the Saints offense isn't new. Brees' air yards per attempt last season sat at 7.1, fifth-fewest in the league. The Saints get their explosive plays with perfectly set up routes designed to gain yards after the catch or with Alvin Kamara
breaking tackles in the ground game.
Can they bust out of that multiyear slump and dive bomb the Bucs in what is now a pivotal game for New Orleans in the playoff positioning race?
The good news for Saints fans is Brees has almost always bounced back from poor performances in the past. The QB has gone 6-0 with 15 passing TDs in his last six games following a tilt in which he didn't throw for a score (includes Week 8 vs. Arizona in his return from injury suffered in 0-TD game Week 2 at L.A.).
Facing a Bucs defense that has allowed 309.8 yards per game, a 99.8 rating and 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions this season to starting quarterbacks, the recipe could be there for a bounceback for Brees and Co.
But after an "unacceptable" performance against a similarly poorly ranked defense at home, can Brees' squad take advantage on the road in Tampa or will this be another game where the defense must take the lead?
He can if Michael Thomas
has anything to say about it.
Tampa Bay has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season, including the third-most to the perimeter, second-most to the slot and most to left perimeter receivers, which is where Thomas aligns 45 percent of the time. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Thomas posted an 11-182-2 receiving line on 13 targets in the Week 5 meeting between these teams.
also scored a touchdown, and Tre'Quan Smith
wasn't targeted before leaving injured.
But Clay went on to stress that it's Thomas who gets a big boost here, especially when you consider that his fantasy point totals in seven career games against Tampa Bay are as follows: 20, 32, 28, 11, 23, 8, 28.
Ginn and Smith should be considered Week 11 sleepers
. Note that Tampa Bay released primary slot CB Vernon Hargreaves on Tuesday, and M.J. Stewart figures to step into that role.
Also, whether Brees or Bridgewater is throwing him the ball, Thomas is doing special things this season.
Thomas caught a season-high 13 catches on Sunday and now has 86 catches through nine games. That puts him on pace for 153 catches over 16 games.
If he does it, Thomas would have the first 150-catch season in NFL history. The current record is 143, set by Marvin Harrison
Thomas had the No. 5 season in NFL history last year, when he caught 125 passes. This year he’s averaging almost two catches a game more than that. Thomas is catching the ball like no other player in NFL history.
Also worth noting. .. Kamara was on the field for 78 percent of the Saints' snaps against Atlanta in his return from a two-game absence. As Clay noted, Kamara carried the ball only four times, but he bailed out fantasy investors with eight catches for 50 yards on 10 targets.
This week, given the Buccaneers' defensive weakness is in the secondary, ESPN.com's Tristan Cockcroft believes Kamara will need to do most of his damage via the receiving game, as was the case against Atlanta. Cockcroft added, "The less your league awards for receptions, the less valuable he is this week."
Kamara's efficiency (4.41 yards per carry, 1.72 yards after the catch, 6.7 yards per target) numbers are just below where he was last season, but a massive drop in goal-line work and touchdowns has limited his fantasy ceiling a bit. Still, the third-year back has produced three top-10 and three-additional top-25 fantasy weeks in seven games and Clay believes he remains a quality RB1 play.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Al Zeidenfeld pointed out that Jared Cook
should be No. 3 in the Brees target tree this week, in a game where the Saints should throw more than usual. Teams have thrown the ball 68.3 percent of the time against Tampa Bay, most likely a result of their "more than stout" run defense working as a funnel to force teams into passing.