TB-NO grades: Byrd's interceptions help Saints to victory
New Orleans Saints 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Here are the top graded players and most noteworthy performances from New Orleans’ 31-24 victory over Tampa Bay.
Quarterback grades: Jameis Winston, 50.7
Opportunity comes knocking, but Winston fails to answer the call
It looks like a season of “not quite” for Jameis Winston. There’s been plenty to get excited about with the sophomore QB and he’s certainly provided a giant boost to a franchise that needed him to energize it. On the other hand, there were too many throws that were a little bit behind a receiver and two frankly terrible decisions that were the difference in why the Bucs lost. Both his picks to Jairus Byrd were careless decisions and it’s telling he completed as many passes to Byrd down the field, as he did his own receivers.
Top offensive grades:
WR Mike Evans, 85.5
TE Cameron Brate, 79.7
LG Evan Smith, 79.2
LT Donovan Smith, 78.7
WR Russell Shepard, 77.0
Evans in elite company
With Julio Jones and A.J. Green hobbled, it’s opened the door for another stud receiver to get more attention. Last year, Mike Evans failed in his audition to join such illustrious company, but make no mistake, this year he has laid down a marker to all the rest. He’s about as physical a downfield threat as there is and the Saints simply could not cover him, no matter how physical they themselves tried to get. He remains our top-ranked receiver on the year and a true All-Pro candidate.
Top defensive grades:
LB Kwon Alexander, 87.1
DT Gerald McCoy, 79.1
S Keith Tandy, 74.4
LB Lavonte David, 73.5
CB Brent Grimes, 49.4
Alexander continues development
He might still miss too many tackles, but there’s an infectious playmaking nature to the game of Kwon Alexander that has your eyes drawn to him. Whether it’s being able to track Willie Snead on a crossing route to break up a pass, or jarring a ball loose from the grip of Coby Fleener, he has a knack for putting the Bucs in favorable positions. He does need to clean up parts of his game but he’s taken a giant leap forward this year and if he can carry on that trajectory next year, the sky is the limit.
Quarterback grades: Drew Brees, 78.2
Brees does enough to grab win
Was it a classic Drew Brees divisional performance? No. He was lucky to get away with a dropped interception courtesy of Brent Grimes and nearly threw two more picks while targeting Vernon Hargreaves. But the Saints, with Brees running the show, moved up and down the field with relative ease and Brews was exceptional on his intermediate and deep throwing, going 9-of-13 for 166 yards.
Top offensive grades:
FB John Kuhn, 92.4
LT Andrus Peat, 91.7
RT Zach Strief, 83.6
LG Senio Kelemete, 82.8
C Max Unger, 82.7
Line shows up to lead saints to win
That was the kind of Saints performance we’ve gotten used to over the years, with Brees given time in the pocket and Mark Ingram given plenty of space to get a head of steam up at second-level defenders. The tone was set early on with the Saints running power to the right side of their line on the first two plays, and it was a play they continued to go to, having a lot of success caving in DaVonte Lambert while John Kuhn cleared out Daryl Smith. It’s telling that of the starters, the line only gave up one sack, one hit and three hurries.
Top defensive grades:
S Jairus Byrd, 91.7
DE Cameron Jordan, 85.1
CB B.W. Webb, 83.2
S Roman Harper, 75.8
DT Nick Fairley, 74.4
Byrd makes the big plays to ruin Bucs Christmas
It may have finished a two-score game, but this was a closer game than the scoreboard suggested. It came down to key moments, and where the Bucs failed to make the most of them, the Saints did not. In particular it was Jairus Byrd who made the biggest difference, and his fourth-quarter pick was the play of the day. With Winston zeroing in on his receiver he made a great break on the ball to pick him off. That forced the Bucs to chase the game and that saw the previously quiet Cameron Jordan really let rip with a sack, hit and two hurries in the fourth quarter.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Saints S Jairus Byrd, 91.7
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