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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After dropping the middle game to the Rangers to split the first two games, the Astros looked for an improved offensive showing in the finale on Thursday night to take the series. Here is a rundown of the rubber game:

Final Score: Astros 2, Rangers 1.

Record: 25-25, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07 ERA).

Valdez another Houston pitcher to thrive against Rangers

Much like Jose Urquidy on Tuesday and Lance McCullers JR. on Wednesday, Framber Valdez put up an excellent pitching line on Thursday against the Rangers. After allowing two singles in the first and a single in the second, he would settle in and hold the Rangers to just one baserunner, which came via a walk through six frames.

He would try to get through the seventh, but after a long at-bat and one-out double, Dusty Baker would stop his night and go to the bullpen. Unfortunately, that double would end up scoring as Josh James would allow an RBI-single, charged to Valdez, before finishing the inning. Along the way, Valdez was able to ring up eleven Rangers. His final line: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 0 HR, 100 P.

Kyle Tucker gets the big hit of the night

Luckily, Houston was still in the lead after the Rangers' run, thanks to a big hit by Kyle Tucker back in the second inning. After Alex Bregman reached base on a walk to become the first runner for the Astros, Kyle Tucker would break out of his recent slump with a two-run home run, putting Houston ahead 2-0 at the time.

Jordan Lyles was otherwise handling the Astros just like Kyle Gibson the night prior, who threw a complete-game shutout. Other than the Tucker homer, Lyles allowed another hit in the second and one in the third before retiring the next 12 Astros in order before an error in the seventh broke that streak, giving Houston their first baserunner since two outs in the third.

Houston takes the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James returned to the mound to start the eighth, and he would get a 1-2-3 inning against the top of Texas' lineup, including back-to-back strikeouts to end it. After another scoreless inning by Houston at the plate, that would set up a save opportunity in the top of the ninth. The opportunity would go to Brooks Raley, and he would notch the save with a scoreless inning, giving Houston the series and moving them back up to .500 at 25-25.

Up Next: The Astros' final three regular-season games played at Minute Maid Park in 2020 are this weekend in a series against the Diamondbacks. In Friday's 7:10 PM opener, Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston while Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15 ERA) will be the starter for Arizona.

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