If you thought the New Orleans Saints maxed out in their win over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, you were proven dead wrong on Sunday night, when Sean Payton, Drew Brees and a charged-up New Orleans defense laid waste to their NFC South rivals in a far more one-sided rout. Brady got to throw to Antonio Brown for the first time in a Bucs uniform, but that was about the only encouraging thing to come from Week 9's divisional rematch if you're a Tampa Bay fan, with Brees turning in a nearly flawless performance as Brady and the Bucs stumbled from start to finish in a 38-3 victory for the visiting Saints.
How bad was the loss for the Bucs? Well, it was the most lopsided loss of Brady's career, topping his 31-0 shellacking at the hands of the Buffalo Bills back in 2003. Brady also posted the worst QB rating of his career in that four-interception dud 17 years ago, and while his three-interception performance on Sunday night didn't surpass that abysmal performance, his 40.4 QB rating marks his third-worst game of his career (behind another four-pick game in 2006 where Brady's Patriots lost 27-20).
New Orleans doesn't just vault up to the top of the NFC South with the win but completes a sweep of Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers, who were garnering praise as maybe the top contender in the conference.
Here are some immediate takeaways from Sunday night's lopsided affair:
Why the Saints won
Their offense started hot, maintained balance and capitalized at every turn. It was a nearly flawless showing from Drew Brees and Co., and that's saying something considering the long-awaited return of Michael Thomas only netted the No. 1 wideout 50 yards entering the final quarter. New Orleans spread the ball around so much and so well, see, that Thomas didn't need to be a star, with reserves at literally every position group fielding darts from Brees to ensure a 31-point lead by halftime.
Taysom Hill? A legitimate weapon, at almost every spot. Emmanuel Sanders? Steady and reliable. Alvin Kamara? Quiet, by his standards, but productive nonetheless. It was just a smooth night, from start to finish, and New Orleans never wasted a chance to turn a takeaway into points early on.
Defense, of course, was equally as impressive, with studs like Marshon Lattimore, Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis finally making impact plays in unison to showcase the Saints' potential on that side of the ball. Trey Hendrickson ate off the edge during the home stretch. Davis and Jenkins stuffed holes during a red-zone stand. Lattimore blanketed Mike Evans. Everyone did their part. The entire team was Super Bowl-caliber.
Why the Buccaneers lost
For all the hype Tampa Bay (somewhat justifiably) received coming into this game, with Antonio Brown joining a stacked cast already featuring Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs absolutely stunk with the ball in their hands. And that's putting it lightly.
Brady was under pressure a little more than you'd like to see, but he was pretty darn atrocious in his own right, misfiring early to help dig Tampa Bay's hole early and, more notably, floating an unusual amount of punt-like deep balls that ended up giving the Saints easy takeaways. It was clear throughout the night that Brady's timing with just about every receiver was off, but that's an indictment of the whole package.
This is what Bruce Arians has to offer at midseason? If you knew Brady wasn't ready to connect with his plethora of Pro Bowl wideouts, you couldn't have given Ronald Jones more than three handoffs? What an abject failure. Defensively, Tampa wasn't nearly as bad, but the score was still ugly for a reason. The Bucs kept most plays in front of them but struggled mightily against the ground, with Vita Vea's absence clearly felt.
The Saints controlled this game from the get-go, but the turning point was pretty clearly the non-turning point that spelled disaster for the Bucs early on. Driving into the red zone to potentially go up two scores after already marching 65 yards on their opening TD series, the Saints afforded Tampa Bay a first-quarter chance at redemption when Jared Cook's second effort on a second-down catch resulted in a fumble, recovered by Lavonte David.
What did the Bucs do with their gift possession? Three plays. Two yards. Punt. That, friends, confirmed the harsh reality: Tampa Bay was not ready to nix its early-game offensive woes, let alone a shootout with the Saints.
Play of the game
Pretty much every Bucs possession gave us good clips of the Saints defense, but how about Emmanuel Sanders' effort on the diving TD grab to put New Orleans up 21-0 in the first half?
The Buccaneers (6-3) will be back in the NFC South in Week 10, when they visit the Carolina Panthers (3-6), who put up a fight against the Chiefs on Sunday. The Saints (6-2), meanwhile, will return home for an afternoon showdown with the battered San Francisco 49ers (4-5), who will be coming off extra rest after their Thursday night loss to the Packers.