TAMPA, Fla. -- The bright lights of prime-time TV -- even on home turf -- proved to be too much for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who didn't just flop on national television for the third time this season, they got throttled.
After narrowly escaping with a 25-23 victory last week over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football -- a game they entered as 12.5-point favorites -- the Bucs were decimated by the New Orleans Saints 38-3 on "Sunday Night Football" to fall to 6-3 and hand Brady the worst loss of his career (the previous low was a 31-0 shutout against the Buffalo Bills in 2003).
"It was shocking. To watch the way we practiced all week and the confidence we had coming in -- we have to go back and look in the mirror, coaches, players, everybody," coach Bruce Arians said, adding, "They kicked our ass in every phase."
In the Bucs' six non-prime-time games this year, they have averaged 33.8 points per game, putting up 377.3 yards of total offense and managed to turn the ball over just six times, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. In their three prime-time games this year, the Bucs scored just 15.7 points per game, put up 292.3 yards of total offense and committed five turnovers.
"We need to perform better at every time," Brady said. "One o'clock, 4 o'clock, 8 o'clock, Monday night, Sunday night. Doesn't matter. They're going to schedule the games, and we're going to go out there and play. I don't think it's anything magical that's happening," Brady said of their prime-time struggles. "As players we got to prepare harder, we got to execute better, there's no excuses for what it is. It's a poor performance by a team that's got a lot ahead of it. Hopefully, we can learn from it and come back to work this week with a lot more urgency, execute a lot better and try to go out and beat a good football team."
The Bucs entered the night looking to not only add cushion to their half-game lead in the NFC South, but to cement themselves as the favorites to win the NFC. They had a chance to overtake the Seattle Seahawks, who lost to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, for first place in the NFC. Instead, they fell to second in the division (the Saints are 6-2 and hold the better division record and tiebreaker) just past the halfway point in a season in which only the top conference teams secure first-round byes.
Brady completed 22 of 38 passes for 209 passing yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions for a QB rating of 40.4. He was pressured heavily -- on 19 of 41 dropbacks Sunday (46%, the highest rate he has faced this season (the previous high was 25% against the Saints in Week 1). He did not fare well under duress either, completing just 6 of 16 passes, with three sacks.
The Bucs' offense -- the league's third-best-scoring unit, averaging 29.75 points a game heading into Week 9 -- couldn't even get a first down until its fifth offensive possession. But just as it did, Marcus Davenport batted down a Brady screen pass intended for Ronald Jones II that was intercepted by David Onyemata.
There were communication issues with Brady and his receivers much of the night, an issue Brady encountered in Week 1 against the Saints.
He attempted to hit Scotty Miller deep on third-and-3 along the left sideline in the first half, but Miller stopped the route, which is also what happened with Antonio Brown just before halftime on a sideline pass that was intercepted by Marcus Williams. Brady not only missed tight end Rob Gronkowski on a deep post route working against Demario Davis on fourth-and-6, but he failed to account for a wide-open Brown, who was running alongside him.
In the third quarter, after Mike Edwards recovered a Drew Brees fumble that was forced by linebacker Shaquil Barrett, Brady missed Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, which would have given the Bucs their first points of the night. He also missed Mike Evans on two fade routes working against Marshon Lattimore -- a play Brady and Evans had been 7-of-7 on in the red zone entering Sunday's game.
Brady's third interception came in the third quarter, on fourth down on a pass intended for Gronkowski.
In his much-anticipated Buccaneers debut and playing in his first game since Week 2 of the 2019 season, Brown caught three passes on five targets for 31 yards, with his longest catch coming on a slant route for a gain of 15 yards. Brown also was responsible for the Bucs' lone third-down conversion, coming across the backfield in motion and going to the flat for a 6-yard completion.
On defense, the Bucs struggled to pressure Brees and had multiple coverage busts and missed tackles, surrendering a season-high 420 yards of total offense. Brees threw for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
The only bright spots of the night were takeaways and the solid kicking of Ryan Succop. In addition to Edwards' fumble recovery, Jordan Whitehead knocked the ball loose from tight end Jared Cook, with Lavonte David recovering it. In the fourth quarter, Succop nailed a 48-yard field goal to avoid a shutout.
But that provided little consolation for a team that wasted yet another opportunity on a big stage after underperforming against the Giants and losing to the Chicago Bears in Week 5 on Thursday Night Football.
"That's one of the things we have to look at because that's what we just addressed in the locker room," Arians said. "We have stunk in those games. We won one of them, should have won the other, but we didn't. This one, we just basically handed it to them."
To add insult, former Bucs QB and current Saints backup Jameis Winston appeared to take a jab at his former team, photobombing Brees' postgame interview with his infamous "eating W's" gesture from his 2017 Tampa Bay pregame speech.