TAMPA, Fla. -- Replacement head coach Dennis Allen couldn't exactly give the game ball to his defensive coordinator Sunday night after the New Orleans Saints delivered a stunning 9-0 shutout over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Sean Payton was sidelined by COVID-19.
Because, well, Allen himself is the defensive coordinator.
But he deserved one after a masterpiece by a Saints defense that has repeatedly stymied quarterback Tom Brady since he joined the NFC South. This was just the third time Brady was shut out in his career -- the first since 2006. And the Saints are now the only team to ever beat Brady in four consecutive regular-season games -- though Brady and the Bucs did beat New Orleans in the playoffs last season.
"I wanted to give him a game ball, but I didn't want to step outside of my job responsibilities," Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. "Just a great leader, and he took his leadership to the next notch. It's a next-man-up league. When Sean went down, he stepped up and did a phenomenal job just pretty much being the same guy and extending himself outside of our room to the entire team."
Brady was 26-of-48 passing for 214 yards with one interception, one lost fumble and four sacks. His Total QBR of 18.5 was his third lowest since ESPN began tracking the statistic in 2006. His lowest? A 4.3 last year in a 38-3 loss at home to the Saints in Week 9.
"I don't want to talk about all the things [we do to be successful against Brady], because then we're giving him a leg up. But, look, we've just gotta go out and execute our job," said Allen, who acknowledged that it helped when Tampa Bay lost receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette to injuries during the game. "This wasn't about scheme. This was about our guys going out and executing and playing really hard against a really good football team."
One obvious secret to the Saints' success was their ability to pressure Brady with just a four-man rush. All four sacks came with just four men rushing, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I think that's big," Allen said. "He does a really good job of recognizing the coverages. And when you're sending a five-man pressure, he knows where to go with the ball."
YESSSSSSS!!#TeamGrit— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) December 20, 2021
Defensive end Cameron Jordan -- who provided two of those sacks and forced a fumble when Brady tried to scramble -- said Allen gave the Buccaneers "fits" with multiple rush looks that included DEs Jordan and Marcus Davenport lining up inside at times. Jordan was making up for lost time after he missed the first game in his 11-year career last week because of COVID-19. He also raised his total to 100.5 career sacks.
"He's one of the smartest coaches I've ever been around," Davis said of Allen. "He puts in game plans that are simple enough to execute but complex enough to keep other teams on their toes a little bit."
"He lets us be us," added safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who intercepted Brady in both games this year -- and was captured on the broadcast gleefully smiling in Brady's face Sunday. "I feel like we've got the best secondary in the league right now, regardless of stats. If you can just go out there and pitch a shutout against one of the best quarterbacks in the league, I don't know what you want me to tell you."
Allen actually gave the game ball to the entire team of coaches and players, crediting everyone for the way they stepped up after finding out Friday morning that Payton wouldn't be available. But Allen did say he "relished" the opportunity to fill in. Allen went just 8-28 as head coach of the Oakland Raiders before being fired during the 2014 season. But his success in New Orleans over the past five years could help him emerge as a candidate once again.
The victory also revived the Saints' playoff hopes at 7-7 as they prepare to host the Miami Dolphins next Monday night.
"Certainly I really appreciate everything Sean Payton has meant to me in my coaching career. So for him to ask me to step up in for him in this circumstance, I appreciate the fact that he had the faith and the trust in me to lead this team," Allen said. "I really appreciate all the players and the assistant coaches and the way that they just hung together and fought and scratched and clawed for each other so we could come away with this win.
"I think anytime you win in this game it's a great feeling -- and certainly in these circumstances."