As it turns out, the answer to the question, "How do you shut down the NFL's most prolific offense?" was simple.
Just take away four of its top five weapons against a defense playing one of its best games of the year.
Trying to keep pace for the NFL's top record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell flat on Sunday in a 9-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, who did just enough to take advantage of a brutal night of injuries in Tampa Bay and improve to 7-7.
The shutout was Tom Brady's first since 2006, per NFL Research, so long ago that no player on the Saints' defense had even entered the NFL. It's also the first time a Brady team has lost to a team that did not score a touchdown.
The Saints, playing without head coach Sean Payton after he tested positive for COVID-19, got on the board early with a pair of field goals in the first quarter and start of the second quarter. At the time, that hardly felt enough to hold off the NFL's top-ranked team in points and total yards per game, but the Saints' pass rush was at least getting to Brady.
Injuries hit Bucs hard
That defense got more than a little help when the Bucs, already without Antonio Brown due to suspension, lost Pro Bowl wide receivers on back-to-back drives. Chris Godwin exited the game with an ankle injury after a brutal hit to his legs in the open field, then Mike Evans headed to the locker room with a hamstring injury after falling hard on a catch.
Those injuries left the Bucs with only three healthy wide receivers active for the game, and things got worse in the third quarter when running back Leonard Fournette — third on the team in receptions with 62 entering Sunday — also exited with a hamstring injury. At that point, the only player left on the Bucs with more than 25 receptions this season was tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Despite that considerable headwind, the Buccaneers weren't left completely toothless. They still had Brady, who had the team nearing the red zone late in the third quarter with a chance at taking the lead.
Unfortunately, things went south when Saints defensive lineman Cam Jordan — who finished with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble — found Brady on a scramble:
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 20, 2021
That would be the closest Tampa Bay got to the end zone all night. The Saints took a seemingly insurmountable 9-0 lead on another field goal two drives later.
The final line represents Brady's worst game since he moved south to Tampa Bay. Through the air, he was 28-of-48 for 213 yards and one interception. Both his 4.4 yards per attempt and 57 passer rating represent lows during his time with the Buccaneers.
Taysom Hill did enough
So the Buccaneers' offense had a rough night. The Saints' offense fared better, but no one was going to mistake this game for a shootout.
In his third game as the Saints' top quarterback this year, Hill finished 13-of-27 for 154 passing yards plus 33 rushing yards. Most of those passes were directed at Marquez Callaway, who had 112 yards and six catches on nine targets. That included some nice deep shots:
— NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2021
— NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2021
No other Hill pass gained more than 10 yards.
Overall, the game was hands-down a slog. Neither team averaged more than 4.1 yards per play (the Saints actually averaged fewer than Tampa Bay) while combining for 17 punts. Now, the Bucs can only hope the ugliness doesn't extend into other games.