To say that it is an exciting weekend in New Orleans may be an understatement. Between the LSU Fighting Tigers facing off against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the “Game of the Century” on Saturday night and the hometown Saints taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in the Dome, one thing is for certain: the people of Louisiana have plenty of reasons to be lazy and relax in front of the television over the course of the next two days. With all the hype surrounds tonight’s college contest, many people seem to be forgetting the true importance of tomorrow’s matchup for the Black and Gold.
For now, the primary memory that many Saints fans have lingering in their head of the Bucs is of their 26-20 upset victory that occurred in Raymond James Stadium back in Week Six. Prior to that game, many analysts and writers, myself included, called it a potential blowout victory in favor of New Orleans; however, anyone who watched it knows that the outcome was very different. In the contest, the Saints’ Pro-Bowl QB, Drew Brees, threw three INTs and finished with a disappointing rating of 70.9. Also, rookie RB Mark Ingram had a day to forget in the backfield, as he led the squad with a miniscule 22 yards rushing (2.4 yds/carry). On the flip side, the Buccaneers’ young offensive weapons led the charge. Josh Freeman, the team’s third-year QB out of Kansas State, threw for 303 yards and two TDs, ending the day with a 95.9 rating. The squad’s second string RB, Earnest Graham, filled in nicely for the injured LeGarrette Blount, as he racked up 109 yards on the ground.
The worst part about that game? Two key members of the Tampa Bay roster, Blount and DT Gerald McCoy, did not participate on that infamous Sunday, and the Bucs still found a way to shock the “Who Dat Nation.” Now coming up in Week Nine, that same Buccaneers roster will look very differently. On Sunday, Tampa Bay will see four starters return to the lineup, including Blount, McCoy, LB Mason Foster and Center Jeff Faine. The bye week seemed to be perfectly timed for the injured squad, and now a healthier, more complete ball club will take the field in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
So now the key question remains: is this matchup against Tampa Bay a “must-win” for the Saints?
Any football player will tell you that every game is a “must-win” situation. If that’s the case, than this contest is a “live-or-die” ordeal. The NFC South is jam-packed in the standings, as New Orleans sits at the top at 5-3. Right behind them, though, lay both Atlanta (4-3) and Tampa Bay (4-3). Heck, even the Carolina Panthers (2-6) are trying to make some noise from the bottom of the division, as a victory last week inched them a tad closer to first place. The simple fact of the matter is this: if the Saints lose this contest to the Buccaneers, they will not only lose first place, but they will most likely drop into the third slot in the division. With the Atlanta Falcons taking on the hopeless Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, one can expect the Birds to pull out a victory and move to 5-3 on the season. Also, it’s never a good thing to have two division losses (especially to the same opponent), as a playoff run will be that much more difficult to achieve later in the season.
So, on this fine Saturday, be sure to remember one thing. With LSU hogging much of the spotlight this weekend, be sure to keep a watchful eye on the Black and Gold tomorrow. Their game is just as vital to the team’s survival in the standings, and like the Tigers tonight, it could go down to the wire.
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