Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon knows his team could end the Saints’ season with an upset victory Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as long as the Arizona Cardinals win their game as well.
But the chance to play spoiler to an NFC South rival that’s 10-5 and vying for a postseason berth doesn’t do much to motivate Glennon or his teammates. They say they want to win because doing so means they’d close the second half of their tumultuous season 5-3 after starting with eight consecutive defeats, and they’d be doing that at one of the toughest places to triumph in the NFL.
“The Saints (are) one of the best (teams) in the league,” said Glennon, a rookie third-round pick for Tampa Bay (4-11). “If we can pull off the win, it’d be a tale of two seasons.”
Few will argue against Glennon on that. Amid their 0-8 start, which included a two-point loss at home to the Saints in Week 2, the Bucs benched QB Josh Freeman and handed his job to Glennon.
The Bucs had three players contract staph infections. Among them was Carl Nicks, a two-time All-Pro guard who helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV; he joined Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2012 and has only played in a pair of games this year.
Despite the upheaval, Tampa Bay fought well in many of its early defeats. Half of those setbacks were by three points or fewer.
In the third quarter of a Week 9 visit to Seattle, which is 12-3 and favored to clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs, the Bucs had a 24-7 lead — until they collapsed and lost 27-24 in overtime.
“Some of those games, we almost invented ways to lose,” coach Greg Schiano said. “The biggest thing is our guys stuck together — there was no finger-pointing.”
The results support Schiano’s statement. Tampa Bay has won four of the seven games it has played since.
In part, the Bucs have been led on defense by Lavonte David, who this year became the first NFL linebacker ever to amass at least six sacks and pick off five passes in the same season. There’s also Gerald McCoy, whose nine sacks, 13 hits and 54 hurries make him the defensive tackle who has applied the most pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
And no one’s about to overlook cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is allowing just 0.53 yards each play he’s lined up in coverage — the fewest in the NFL among defenders who have been in on at least 300 snaps, Pro Football Focus says.
“Defensively, I feel like they’ve always been ... very aggressive,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who was sacked four times, tossed two picks and threw a TD on 26-of-46 passing in New Orleans’ 16-14 win earlier this year in Tampa Bay.
Added tight end Jimmy Graham: “You’ve got to be aware of a lot of those guys on that defense. They’re pretty talented across the board.”
Tampa Bay’s offense has made less of an impact. Behind Glennon, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,389 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions, the Bucs rank last in the league in total offense and passing offense (276.1 and 173.7 yards per game).
Running back Bobby Rainey has been a pleasant surprise for Tampa Bay after Doug Martin suffered a season-ending shoulder injury six games into the season. Martin rushed for 144 yards against the Saints, the second-most he has had in his two-year career.
Rainey has run for a respectable 497 yards on 126 carries, and he has scored six times in nine games.
But Rainey and a solid defense may not be enough for Tampa Bay to keep up with the Saints, who are unbeaten at the Superdome since the end of the 2010 season with coach Sean Payton on the sideline.
In seven games at the Dome this year, the Saints and their fifth-ranked offense are averaging about 440 yards and 33 points, figures that are astonishingly high. Their fourth-ranked defense at home is limiting opponents to about 267 yards and 15 points, figures that are astonishingly low.
The Bucs are 1-6 on the road this year. They’re coming off a 23-13 loss at St. Louis (7-8) in which Rainey ran 20 times for a paltry 37 yards and Glennon took a staggering seven sacks, pushing his season total to 38. With an 11-20 record in his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, Schiano’s job status is uncertain.
Yet the Bucs insist they’ve prepared as if they’re still in contention — not because they wish to possibly ruin the Saints’ year but because they believe a win would create momentum for the offseason and beyond.
“It would be a huge thing,” Glennon said. “We’re ... looking to finish the season on a high note.”