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Week 16 Game Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24, New Orleans Saints 31

What you need to know

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Doug Martin was a healthy scratch in what was described as a "coach's decision" now that all of Tampa's runningbacks are now healthy. Coaches apparently considered Martin the weakest option at the position, preferring instead to give Jacquizz Rodgers the start, with Charles Sims mixing in on passing downs. Peyton Barber was the 3rd active back, holding down special teams and backup duties. Tampa Bay couldn't stop the New Orleans offense or generate any turnovers, while Winston threw 2 interceptions to Jairus Byrd that the Saints capitalized on. Starting tight end Cameron Brate scored an early touchdown but left with a back injury in the 3rd quarter. QB Winston struggled as weapons in the passing game dwindled. Tampa Bay again experimented with shuffling offensive line positions, and the changes seemed to help the run game, which started out strong in the first half.

New Orleans Saints

New Orleans’ offense bounced back from a sluggish performance at TB just 13 days earlier that included three Brees INTs. This time, they tabulated 417 yards of offense and held the scoreboard advantage from wire-to-wire. The main difference this time was a commitment to a balanced attack, relying on Mark Ingram to the tune of 18 consistently effective and well-blocked carries in order to stay in manageable downs and distances. Drew Brees’ air attack provided Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas with successful days. Cooks gained separation at all three levels of the field including a 43-yard vertical route down the left sideline while Thomas operated mainly in the short to intermediate vicinities of the field, with his best play coming on a 46-yard slant in which he made a pair of defenders miss after the catch. An efficient day with zero turnovers is a fine way to end a lost season for New Orleans, especially when since the victory allowed them to effectively end Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB Jameis Winston, 61 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 35 - 277 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 3 - 14 - 0
Winston had an up and down week 16, losing passing game weapon Cameron Brate in the 3rd quarter. After the loss, Winston was throwing to Mike Evans and a supporting cast that included Josh Huff, Russell Shepard, and Brandon Myers. The lack of weapons showed as Winston struggled to find open receivers against a solid defensive effort from the Saints. New Orleans only managed 2 official sacks of Winston, but he was hurried and hit often throughout the game.

Winston's 1st touchdown of the day capped off a 2nd quarter drive with a quick pass to Cameron Brate. The Bucs drove down to the Saints' red zone, lining up inside the 10 yard line in a 3WR set with Brate in-line on the left side of the formation. At the snap, Brate streaked straight up the field and Winston fired a laser pass through traffic for the touchdown. Winston's 2nd touchdown was a beautiful 34 yard bomb to Mike Evans in the 3rd quarter. Evans lined up tight to the formation inside of wideout Shepard and TE Stocker, who was flexed out to the slot. Winston took a shotgun snap and threw a jump ball up for Evans, who made a physical catch on a deep corner route over tight defensive coverage for the touchdown. Winston threw a brutal interception on the first drive of the 3rd quarter. After Josh Huff muffed a kick at the Tampa Bay 4 yard line, Winston was forced to operate out of his own end zone. He took the snap and dropped back, heaving a desperate throw for Mike Evans streaking down the left sideline. Winston apparently never saw safety Jairus Byrd sitting back in coverage, and the Saint defender had an easy pick and a return well into the Tampa Bay red zone. Byrd had Winston's number for the day, picking him off again late in the 4th quarter. Russell Shepard lined up wide left and ran a 10 yard-in route, but Byrd was sitting over the top of the zone in coverage, and jumped the pass as soon as Shepard cut inside.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 63 - 1, Rec: 2 - 15 - 0 (2 targets)
Tampa Bay's coaching staff elected to bench Doug Martin in favor of a healthy Rodgers. The move seemed to payoff. Rodgers, who is built similarly to Martin with a short, thick stature, made decisive cuts and took what the defense gave him, instead of dancing in the hole like Martin is prone to do. Rodgers started out hot, taking his first carry of the game off left tackle for a 14 yard gain. He carried the ball 4 consecutive times to start the game before Winston ever dropped back to pass. Rodgers got a couple of consecutive carries on the goal line in the 3rd quarter when a penalty set the Bucs up on the New Orleans 5 yard line. Rodgers punched it in on the second attempt, churning his legs and applying great leverage with his shorter frame. Rodgers finished the day with 15 carries for 63 yards.

Rodgers caught a checkdown pass out of the backfield on his first target of the day for a 3 yard gain. He caught his second target in the 3rd quarter, leaking out of the backfield and catching the ball in the flats for a 12 yard gain.

RB Charles Sims, 24 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 12 - 0, Rec: 4 - 30 - 0 (4 targets)
Sims' role in the backfield essentially stayed the same as the Tampa Bay coaching staff substituted Rodgers for Martin in the early down/lead back role. Sims took most of his snaps on passing downs, lining up in the backfield and occasionally as a wide receiver.

He only carried the ball 3 times for a total of 12 yards. Sims made a couple of beautiful cuts to the outside on a 3rd quarter run that gained 14 yards, his longest carry of the game. Sims caught all 4 targets in the passing game for a total of 30 yards. His first was short out route out of the backfield in the 2nd quarter, then another short checkdown shortly after. Sims lined up wide right later in the 3rd quarter and caught a quick screen, taking it down the sidelines for a 13 yard gain. Sims caught a curl route for a 12 yard gain later in the 4th quarter.

WR Mike Evans, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 97 - 1 (8 targets)
Evans was wide open on a post route for a 16 yard gain in the 2nd quarter. He picked up first down yardage on 2nd and 10 with a curl route on the left side of the formation in the 2nd quarter. Evans made a beautiful 34 yard touchdown reception late in the 3rd quarter. Russell Shepard lined up wide left, with TE Stocker flexed out to the slot. Evans lined up inside Stocker, just a few feet away from the left tackle. Winston took the snap in the shotgun and threw a jump ball up for Evans, who was running a deep corner route. Evans went up and made an extremely physical catch right on the goal line while the defender actually drew a pass interference penalty for too much contact. Evans picked up a 9 yard gain on a bubble screen later in the 3rd while lined up wide left of the formation. He picked up another 7 yards and a first down on the next play with a quick slant route. Winston hit Evans for one final 14 yard connection on the Bucs' last offensive drive of the game. Evans finished the day with7 receptions on a team-high 8 targets for 97 yards.

WR Russell Shepard, 52 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 61 - 0 (5 targets)
Shepard was wide open on a crossing route at the end of the 1st quarter, hauling in his first target for a 12 yard gain. Shepard caught a deep comeback route for a gain of 23 later in the 4th quarter. Shepard lined up wide right and caught a deep post route for 24 yards on the Bucs' final drive of the game. Shepard was the target on Winston's 4th quarter interception to Jairus Byrd. Shepard lined up wide left and ran a 10 yard-in route, but Byrd was sitting on top of the zone in coverage, and jumped in front of Shepard right when he made his cut on the route.

WR Josh Huff, 4 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 24 - 0 (3 targets)
Huff hauled in his first target-a WR bubble screen similar to those often run by slot man Adam Humphries-for a 12 yard gain. Winston targeted Huff on a deep ball down the left side of the field on the next play, but couldn't connect downfield against strong coverage from the Saints. Huff caught another bubble screen on the opposite side of the formation in the 3rd quarter, picking up 1st down yardage on 3rd and long. Huff returned kickoffs for the Bucs, fumbling the opening kick of the 2nd half and taking his time recovering it at the Bucs own 4 yard line. The Saints intercepted the ball on the ensuing drive, which started out with Winston in his own end zone.

WR Adam Humphries, 33 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 12 - 0 (2 targets)
Humphries drew a pass interference flag as he was targeted on a deep post route in the 2nd quarter, setting the Bucs up inside the New Orleans red zone. Humphries' only official catch of the day was a 12 yard gain on a crossing route halfway through the 4th quarter. He was targeted just twice.

TE Brandon Myers, 26 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (6 targets)
Myers picked up the slack as the receiving tight end once Cameron Brate left in the 3rd quarter with a back injury. Myers was targeted on the very next play, hauling in a crossing route for 9 yards. Myers picked up a first down 2 plays later with a curl route on the right side of the field that gained 12 yards. Myers was targeted by Winston in the end zone on a corner route at the end of the 4th quarter, but the pass was overthrown. Winston targeted him again on the next play, but the two couldn't connect on a deep post route. Myers finished the day with 2 catches on 6 targets for 21 yards.

TE Cameron Brate, 32 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 12 - 1 (2 targets)
Brate's first target was a deep ball in the end zone halfway through the 2nd quarter. Brate went up strong and had a chance at the ball, but it bounced off his hands as he fought a pair of defenders for it. Later in the 2nd, Brate got another chance at the end zone, lining up in-line and making a great catch in traffic as he streaked up the seam for a touchdown. Brate was injured during the 3rd quarter on a 14 yard reception that was called back by a holding penalty. He took a shot to the back and was reportedly unable to stand on the sidelines without assistance.

New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 71 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 34 - 299 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 1 - 0
New Orleans’ opening drive began promisingly, with two first downs achieved. An incompletion followed by a coverage sack forced a punt soon after. Brees led a balanced attack on the second series, connecting with Cooks and Fleener for sizeable chunks before giving way to Mark Ingram for a six-yard TD rush to take a 7-0 lead. The Saints were dealt poor field position on their third possession; two incompletions and a negligible rush forced a quick punt. Brees bounced back with a 10-play drive his fourth time out, staying balanced between the run and short pass. The drive stalled in TB territory on a Cooks drop, which led to New Orleans settling for a FG to reclaim a 10-7 lead with 6:45 left in the half. Brees led another 10-play effort on his following possession, connecting with all three of his main targets to move into TB territory. From there, he took a sack, forced a screen pass for a loss and eventually the Saints had to settle for a FG with the first half clock waning towards zero, making the score 13-7 to their advantage. New Orleans received excellent field position following a TB interception, and Mark Ingram put six points on the board in one play to make the score 20-7. Brees led another TD drive on his next time out, tossing a quick slant to Michael Thomas for 43 yards after the catch, and then finding Cadet for an 11-yard TD before giving way to Ingram on a 2PC to raise the lead to 28-14 with 21:20 remaining. Brees led his team on an 11-play drive to link the third and fourth quarters, finding Brandin Cooks deep up the left sideline with a pocket pass and then firing a bullet to Michael Thomas on third-and-16. A pair of incompletions to Thomas on isolation routes at TB’s three yard-line led to a FG, extending the lead to 31-21 with 11:58 left. Brees continued to feed Thomas on the following drive with the two-possession lead, but a stuffed running game and an incomplete deep shot to Cooks led to a punt with 4:33 remaining. Following a TB FG, Brees and Co. proceeded to run out the clock to solidify their 31-24 win to essentially eliminate TB. It was a bounceback performance for the veteran QB, who erased memories of his struggles in TB two weeks earlier with a trademark superstar performance.

RB Mark Ingram, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 18 - 90 - 2, Rec: 2 - 3 - 0 (3 targets)
Ingram started the game with a carry off RT, side-stepping tackle and falling forward for a gain of nine. Two plays later, Ingram ran a flat route to the right side of the field for five. He re-entered the game late in the following series, and found a wide rushing lane up the middle for a six-yard TD. He showed some power midway through the second quarter, trucking a DB off LG for seven yards. Ingram ran for nine to begin his team’s next drive, decisively cutting upfield off RT. Ingram lost two yards on a short swing pass to the right flat later in the possession. Early in the third quarter, Ingram bounced a run off RT, proceeding to cut upfield to follow great blocking for an easy 14-yard TD. He stayed busy into the following drive, continuing to add body blows off the right side with another six-yard gain. He solidified the drive by bouncing off LG for an untouched 2PC. Ingram committed a facemask penalty early in the fourth period that negated a first down of his own off RT. Ingram was the focal point of New Orleans’ final drive intent on bleeding the clock to zero. He went for eight off RG on his first carry, two off LG on his second and sealed the deal with a determined ten off RG on his final give of the day. Perhaps his best day on the ground all year, Ingram consistently ripped off chunks of yardage in the balanced attack and found the endzone twice.

RB Tim Hightower, 15 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 29 - 0, Rec: 1 - 11 - 0 (1 targets)
Hightower entered the game on his team’s second drive, putting his head down off RG for five yards. He carried the rock three additional times on the drive, but never gained more than four yards at a time. He went for a gain of four to open his team’s fourth drive, and caught an 11-yard screen in the left flat two plays later. Hightower’s next touch occurred midway through the fourth period, powering up the middle for seven on his first carry. Hightower was effective in his limited opportunities while clearly playing second fiddle to Mark Ingram.

RB Travaris Cadet, 5 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 16 - 1 (2 targets)
Midway through the first, Cadet lined up in the left slot and ran a short out route for five yards. He re-entered the game midway through the third period, running an angle route out of the backfield to gain decisive inside leverage on a LB for an easy 11-yard TD.

RB John Kuhn, 31 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 1 - 7 - 0 (1 targets)
Kuhn converted a third and short on his lone carry of the day. He elevated over a LB in the left flat early in the fourth quarter for seven yards off play-action.

WR Michael Thomas, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 98 - 0 (8 targets)
Thomas ran a hitch route from the left outside position for his first catch, a five-yard pickup in the second quarter. Later in the half, Thomas ran an intermediate in route to gain 15 yards with inside leverage. Thomas recorded the play of the day midway through the third period, catching a three-step slant from the left boundary before turning upfield and making a pair of defenders miss en route to a 46 yard gain. He ran a deep hitch early in the fourth period, sitting down in front of man coverage before physically ripping the ball out of the air at the catch point for 17 yards and a critical first down. After failing to reel in an isolation fade and a quick slant deep in the redzone, Thomas bounced back on the following drive with another of his quintessential three-step slants for ten yards. The ball went right back in his direction on the following down, a quick hitch to the right boundary off a QB rollout for five more. A physical weapon still learning the intricacies of route running, NO’s top WR has his best days clearly ahead of him.

WR Brandin Cooks, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 98 - 0 (9 targets)
Cooks ran an intermediate crosser for his first catch of the day, settling in behind the LBs for 20 yards. He ran a comeback route midway through the second quarter, timing his pivot for 13 yards up the left sideline. Cooks committed a drop shortly later on the drive, costing his team a crucial first down. He ran another comeback route after the two-minute warning in the same spot for 14. Cooks stayed involved into the second half, running a quick hitch midway through the third for nine yards. He gained 43 yards down the left sideline late in the third quarter, selling an outside route before putting on the burners inside to gain separation for the deep pass. Another effective day for Cooks, who made his presence felt with speed and precise route running at all three levels.

WR Willie Snead, 40 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (5 targets)
Snead suffered a drop on a PA-pass early in the second quarter on a short crossing route. He settled down in a vacant zone over the middle on the following drive, falling at the chains for seven yards. Snead caught his second and final reception of the day on a comeback route to the right sideline off a flea-flicker, gaining 14 yards in the process. The quiet day for Snead included the aforementioned drop, but can also be partially attributed to NO’s wire-to-wire lead and commitment to the ground game.

TE Coby Fleener, 30 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 30 - 0 (3 targets)
Early in NO’s opening drive, Fleener settled down underneath zone coverage up the right seam for nine yards. Fleener ran a vertical seam route on the successive series, elevating between second-level defenders for 21 yards.

TE John Phillips, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 15 - 0 (2 targets)
Phillips gained five on a short stick route midway through the first quarter. Phillips gained ten on a quick-hitter off play-action late in the third period.