TAMPA 48, NEW ORLEANS 40

The good, bad and ugly from Saints-Buccaneers

Drew Brees had a big day. Michael C. Hebert, New Orleans Saints team Web site

The New Orleans Saints opened their 2018 season by losing at home to the Tampa Bay Bucs in a shootout 48-40. The game resembled one of those college football games in which last scoring possession wins. Not a good way to open the season for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. Let’s take a look at some observations:

The Good

-Drew Brees went Drew Brees against a game Tampa defense. Showing no signs of age slowing him down, he went 37 of 45 for 439 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Lots of so-called experts have long predicted Brees’ downfall, or the beginning of it. If today was any indication of what’s to come, Brees will put up video game numbers again this season.

-Michael Thomas is the real deal. Coming into his third season, he’s now seen as one of the league’s top receivers. With 16 catches on 17 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown, he’s proven that he’s not a flash in the pan. Another strong performance this year, and he’ll solidify his top five receiver status, or make an argument for top three for sure.

- Alvin Kamara also made his presence felt catching the football. He had nine catches on 12 targets for 112 yards and a touchdown. With Mark Ingram out, and a bunch of randoms helping fill the void, Kamara will be counted on heavily until Ingram returns from suspension.

The Bad

-One of the randoms helping fill in at running back, Mike Gillislee, fumbled after the Bucs took a 24-17 lead with about four minutes left in first half. The fumble was returned for a touchdown and Tampa was suddenly up 31-17. Backup running backs are a dime a dozen. This was not a good way to endear yourself to your new team, especially after they put a promising rookie on the practice squad in order to sign you.

-For all the good Thomas did receiving the ball, his fumble came when the Saints were down 41-24 and had just gotten into scoring range. Sure a 50+ yard field goal would’ve only cut the lead to 41-27, but it’s the ensuing touchdown Tampa scored after the fumble that made the 48-24 lead too much to overcome.

-The Saints only tallied 43 yards rushing. For a team that averaged about 130 yards per game last year, this was well below the new standard they had set. Sure, Ingram is serving a four-game suspension for PEDs, but that’s no excuse. This team returned five guys on the offensive line that played a significant role in the run game resurgence from last year.

The Ugly

-Speaking of the run game, where in the hell was the balance on offense?!? The Saints attempted 45 passes and only 13 runs. A ratio above 3:1 when it comes to pass/run plays called is not winning football. Unless you’re Mike Leach, then it’s totally acceptable.

-The cornerbacks were supposed to be the deepest and most quality position on a revamped defense. Their man coverage was amongst the best in the league last season after they found their groove. Not today. They were torched by Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick to the tune of 21/28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Ken Crawley in particular seemed to be the whipping boy of choice as he routinely gave up big plays. Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore was also beaten badly on a go route by Mike Evans for a touchdown.

-No sacks, interceptions, or fumble recoveries and allowing 8/13 third down conversions this game by the defense. That’s a piss-poor stat line for a defense that prides itself on turnovers and getting off the field on third downs. To make matters worse, they only forced one punt all game. This side of the ball must improve if the Saints want to make any major moves this year.

Giving up 48 points in your home opener is a serious blow to a team’s confidence. This was an awful performance, but hopefully it’ll serve as an early season wake up call they need to round into shape. I can’t stress enough the optics of last season’s opening loss to the Vikings. The doom and gloom that came along with it made it appear as if another 7-9 season was looming. They have 15 more games to get it together.

 

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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