There is just something about the Saints that Tom Brady can’t seem to figure out. At least, Tampa Bay Brady.
In his first two seasons with the Buccaneers, Brady has now dropped all four of the regular-season contests to the Saints, including a shutout loss that snapped his streak of 255 games avoiding a zero in the box score.
Never before in Brady’s career has he lost to a team four times in a row in the regular season, and now the Saints have become one of only three NFL teams to have a winning record against the future Hall of Fame quarterback, sporting a 5-4 regular-season mark against him to join the Seahawks (2-1) and the Los Angeles Rams (2-1) in that regard. Even the Rams get taken out of the picture if counting their St. Louis days (1-2).
Here’s how the games have gone in the regular season since Brady reached Tampa Bay:
|Sept. 13, 2020||34-23 Saints|
|Nov. 8, 2020||38-3 Saints|
|Oct. 3, 2021||36-27 Saints|
|Dec. 19, 2021||9-0 Saints|
What have the Saints done to Brady in those games that have flummoxed the GOAT? Sporting News breaks it down.
Tom Brady’s stats vs. Saints
Before we dive into what caused the struggles, let’s take a look at how Brady has fared overall against them in his career.
When he was the quarterback in New England, he owned New Orleans. He had a 4-1 record against the Saints and had some impressive stat lines.
|Nov. 25, 2001||19-26||258||4||0||34-17 NE|
|Nov. 20, 2005||15-29||222||3||0||24-17 NE|
|Nov. 30, 2009||21-36||237||0||2||38-17 NO|
|Oct. 13, 2013||25-43||269||1||1||30-27 NE|
|Sept. 17, 2017||30-39||447||3||0||36-20 NE|
|Totals:||110-173 (63.6%)||1,433||11||3||141-119 NE|
Now, here’s how he’s done in his time with the Buccaneers, including the postseason matchup.
|Sept. 13, 2020||23-36||239||2||2||34-23 NO|
|Nov. 8, 2020||22-38||209||0||3||38-3 NO|
|Jan. 17, 2021||18-33||199||2||0||30-20 TB|
|Oct. 31, 2021||28-40||375||4||2||36-27 NO|
|Dec. 19, 2021||26-48||214||0||1||9-0 NO|
|Totals:||117-195 (60%)||1,236||8||8||137-83 NO|
No quarterback likes to operate under pressure. And while Brady might still be a better passer than most in that situation, he’s still far from perfect.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady ranks 15th among qualifying quarterbacks with a passing grade of 53.0, a major step down from his overall passing grade of 89.7 on the year.
In the past two years when playing the Saints, Brady has been constantly pressured. No team has even come remotely close to the 13 sacks Brady has sustained against New Orleans, with only the Falcons next up at seven. No other team has reached Brady more than four times.
Sure, the Saints have played the Buccaneers the most in that timespan, but it’s been consistent. They’ve sacked him three times in each game, except in the most recent clash, when they got to him four times. Only three other teams over the past two seasons have reached him three times in a game, the Bears, Falcons (twice) and Rams. In those games, he is a combined 2-2.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 2020, in the 38-3 blowout loss in Week 9, the Saints pressured Brady 22 times, the most of any team that season. In the 2020 season-opener, it was 13, tied for the fifth-most during the campaign. Even though during the Saints’ 36-27 win in Week 8 of 2021 the Saints only pressured him seven times, they converted the highest rate of pressures to sacks of any team this season at 42.9 percent, according to PFF. And in the shutout loss, they pressured him 15 times, the second-most he’s faced during the campaign.
Forcing bad throws
Perhaps a byproduct of the pressure faced, Brady has also become turnover prone when he faces New Orleans.
Since the start of the 2020 campaign, Brady has thrown eight interceptions against the Saints. He has been picked off at least once in each of the four contests and has thrown multiple interceptions in three of the four games. There have only been four teams during that span to record multiple interceptions against him during the regular season: the Rams in 2020, Chiefs in 2020, Cowboys in 2021 and Washington in 2021. Brady won only the matchup against the Cowboys.
These aren’t just passes that are being tipped up into interceptions either. Pro Football Focus has said that Brady has thrown plenty of passes that deserve to be picked off. In the blowout to New Orleans in 2020, 9.1 percent of Brady’s pass attempts were turnover-worthy throws, the highest rate in any single game for him in the past two seasons. The season-opener against the Saints was only at 2.2 percent. In the team’s 2021 Week 8 matchup against New Orleans, that number was again a season-high, checking in at 6.8 percent. He hit his second-worst number in the shutout loss, with 5.6 percent of his passes grading as turnover worthy.
And of course if a quarterback is forcing throws, it never helps when the opposing defense is covering well. The Saints have certainly done that.
There can be little attribution of Brady’s passing struggles applied to his receivers. Pro Football Reference has his receivers tallying just four drops in the first three games, which would account for only 9.7 percent of his incompletions.
Instead, the Saints have just prevented the ball from getting to his receivers. Their defenders have combined to record 23 passes defended in all four games. And even when they give up the pass, they’ve shut it down efficiently, allowing 375 yards after completion in the first three games, holding Brady’s receivers to a collective 5.1 yards after completion per completion, just over the team’s 4.9 average during that span. Though not impressive on its own, that 375 number is inflated by 205 yards after completion in the third game after games of 90 and 80 in the first two games, which were averages of 3.1 yards after completion per completion.
Pro Football Focus gave New Orleans’ defense coverage grades of 62.8, 68.7, 77.7 and 80.5 in each game, all ranking among their best defensive performances.
Quieting the run game
While the run game has never been completely shut down, it has certainly been dimmed in each of the four losses, forcing Brady to have to air the ball out more often.
Only once in the teams’ four regular season meetings have the Buccaneers been able to collectively rush for more than 100 yards, and that came in the shutout loss on “Sunday Night Football,” when the Bucs gained 118 yards on the ground. Previously, they had mustered totals of 86, 8 and 71. Tampa Bay has averaged 4.29 yards per carry during this span. In 2020, the Buccaneers averaged 94.9 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry, while in 2021, those stats are 97.6 and 4.4, respectively.
In limiting the yards on the ground for Tampa Bay, the Saints have been able to control the time of possession in all but one of the four contests. That one also happened to be the only game the Buccaneers had at least 100 rushing yards.
|Sept. 13, 2020||28:37||31:23|
|Nov. 8, 2020||19:56||40:04|
|Oct. 3, 2021||26:44||33:16|
|Dec. 19, 2021||30:16||29:44|
Brady’s win against the Saints
The discussion has almost entirely centered on how the Saints have beaten Brady, but it is worth revisiting the one win Brady has over them.
Brady didn’t exactly light up New Orleans’ defense in the win, as he still completed only 54.5 percent of his passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns, but everything else that has worked for New Orleans to beat Brady in a Bucs’ uniform did not work.
The Saints only sacked Brady once, and PFF listed the defense as having only seven pressures on him in the game. He completed only one pass in seven attempts when pressured. In addition, he was listed as having only 5.9 percent of his passes as turnover-worthy throws. And as for his receivers, they had 94 yards after the catch, averaging 5.2 per reception.
The Buccaneers were also able to establish a running game, with both Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones rushing for more than 60 yards to help Tampa Bay control the time of possession at 31:31 to New Orleans’ 28:29.
There was still one problem for the Saints: Brees. The future Hall of Fame quarterback struggled against the Buccaneers’ defense, throwing three interceptions and only having 134 passing yards. While both he and backup Jameis Winston each had a touchdown pass, two of Brees’ interceptions came on the final two drives of the game for the Saints, while Brady led the Buccaneers to a field goal and touchdown on each of the two drives prior.