TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Nobody hounds Tom Brady like the New Orleans Saints.
Cameron Jordan and the New Orleans defense gave Brady fits again, shutting down Tampa Bay’s high-powered offense Sunday night as the Saints put the Buccaneers’ division-title celebration plans on hold with a 9-0 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions.
“Just a tough night. Didn’t do much of anything right,” said Brady, who smashed a tablet on the bench in frustration late in the fourth quarter.
“I wish it was just one thing. It was a lot of things,” he added. “We just didn’t play well enough. We’re not going to win scoring no points.”
Despite playing without coach Sean Payton on the sideline, the Saints (7-7) beat the Bucs (10-4) for the seventh straight time during the regular season — fourth since Brady left New England for Tampa Bay in 2020.
And no doubt, defense was the driving force behind this one.
“You can’t say enough about what they did to pitch a shutout like that. And against a Brady-led offense, it’s incredible,” Saints quarterback Taysom Hill said. “Part of our play calling and all that was reflective of how well they were playing.”
The victory gave New Orleans a sweep of the season series between the NFC South rivals and boosted the Saints into playoff position with a hold on the conference's final wild card. It also forced Tampa Bay to wait at least another week to clinch its first division crown since 2007.
The Bucs, who did win a playoff game at New Orleans last January en route to winning the Super Bowl, lead the division by three games with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
With defensive coordinator Dennis Allen standing in for Payton, who missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19, the Saints stymied the NFL’s No. 1 passing and scoring offense and ended Brady’s streak of 255 consecutive starts (including playoff games) without being shut out.
Former Saints star Drew Brees (304) is the only quarterback with a longer run.
“This wasn’t in any way a one-man show,” Allen said. “This was an organization that came together and won a game.”
Jordan had two of New Orleans' four sacks, surpassing 100 for his career, and forced a key fumble in the lowest-scoring game of the NFL season. It was the first time Brady lost to an opponent that didn't manage a touchdown.
“Look, if we wanted to win, we had to put it on the D-line,” Jordan said. “We installed a four-man rush front and we got after him. We hit him early, we hit him often and we sort of rushed him a few more times than he normally has been. I mean, to get Tom Brady — he's got one of the fastest releases in the game. So I'm just overly impressed with my D-line.”
Brady leads the NFL in completions (404), attempts (602), yards passing (4,348) and TD passes (36), but he was just 26 of 48 for 213 yards and one interception — the eighth he’s thrown in four regular-season games against the Saints, who didn’t have any turnovers Sunday night.
Hill, meanwhile, was 13 of 27 for 154 yards and no interceptions for New Orleans, which also got field goals of 39, 35 and 42 yards from Brett Maher.
The dual-threat quarterback set up Maher’s first field goal with a 40-yard completion to Marquez Callaway. They combined on a 33-yard pass play to set up the 35-yarder that gave New Orleans a 6-0 halftime lead.
“Obviously, we would rather have touchdowns than field goals in those situations, but we were able to come away with points,” Allen said. “And the way this game ended up playing out it was more about protecting the football and playing the field-position game, because we felt good about the defense and the way we were playing.”
The Saints have won two in a row after a five-game losing streak that jeopardized their postseason chances.
“We’re aware of the situation,” Hill said. “We’re 7-7 now and we’re doing everything we can to get to the playoffs. We have to approach every game like it’s a playoff game.”
The Saints have won the NFC South every year since 2017, and despite losing Brees to retirement and his successor, Jameis Winston, to a season-ending knee injury, they’re not relinquishing the crown without a fight.
Trevor Siemian came off the bench to replace Winston and lead New Orleans to a 36-27 victory in the first meeting between the fierce rivals on Oct. 31. Brady threw for 375 yards and two TDs in that one, but also lost a fumble and had one of his two interceptions returned for a touchdown in the loss.
This time, the Saints' defense harassed Brady repeatedly, forced a fumble by the 44-year-old quarterback that ruined Tampa Bay’s best scoring opportunity in the second half, and also intercepted the seven-time Super Bowl winner late in the game.
“I think it's just a testament to what our defense is able to do,” Jordan said. “The way we were able to attack the offense, I love it.”
Ryan Succop missed a 45-yard field goal, costing the Bucs potential points in the first half.
“Very disappointing. It’s never happened to me. I can’t remember the last time I was shut out, or us,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “Our kickers let us down, also. Between the offense and the kicking game, it cost us the game. The defense played good enough to win.”
Saints: Played without LT Terron Armstead and RT Ryan Ramszyk, both out with knee injuries.
Buccaneers: WRs Chris Godwin (knee) and Mike Evans (hamstring) left in the second quarter, Godwin after taking a hard hit from Saints CB P.J. Williams. Neither receiver returned to the game. ... RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring) departed in the third quarter. ... S Jordan Whitehead returned to the lineup after missing two games, but S Antoine Winfield Jr. (foot), CB Jamel Dean (illness) and CB Richard Sherman (Achilles) were inactive.
Saints: Host the Miami Dolphins next Monday night.
Buccaneers: Travel to Carolina for the first of two games the defending champs will play against the Panthers in the final three weeks of the regular season.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL