NFC South: 2012 Week 4 coverage

Wrap-up: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22

September, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers24-22 loss to the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Bucs put out another solid effort, but all it added up to was their third straight loss, all against NFC East opponents. The Bucs are 1-3 and tied with Carolina for second place in the NFC South. They could have moved to 2-2 and sole possession of second place if they had been able to hold on after taking a late lead. But that didn’t happen. This team is doing some good things under Greg Schiano, but the Bucs have yet to put it all together. That’s not unusual with a new coach. It took the Bucs half a season to start grasping things back when Tony Dungy took over and he wound up leading the team through its longest period of consistent success. At least these Bucs are looking better than the Bucs in the first half of Dungy’s first season.

Defense collapses: Tampa Bay’s defense has been the bright spot through most of the first four games. But the defense let the Bucs down when it mattered most on Sunday. After Connor Barth gave the Bucs a 22-21 lead with under two minutes left, Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense were able to march straight down the field to set up Billy Cundiff’s game-winning field goal. The defense didn’t have a great day overall. Griffin threw for 323 yards and Alfred Morris rushed for 113 yards.

Hope for the offense: There finally were some bright spots out of the Tampa Bay offense. Josh Freeman threw for 299 yards and had a particularly good second half to put the Bucs back in the game. Vincent Jackson had six catches for 100 yards. The Bucs also diversified their running game, getting LeGarrette Blount a bit more involved. Blount got six carries and had 17 yards and a touchdown. Doug Martin, who had been getting the vast majority of the carries, had eight carries for 33 yards.

What’s next: The Bucs have a bye next week. Their next game is Oct. 14, at home with Kansas City.

Wrap-up: Packers 28, Saints 27

September, 30, 2012
Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints28-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The Saints played their best game of the season, but still fell to 0-4. I won’t categorically say the season is over, but it’s close to that. It’s going to take an awfully big miracle for the Saints to bounce back and make the playoffs.

The win that wasn’t: The Saints actually had this game won -- momentarily. With just under three minutes left, Garrett Hartley converted a 43-yard field goal that would have given the Saints a 30-28 lead. But the field goal was erased by a holding call. That set up a 53-yard attempt that would have tied for the longest of Hartley’s career. He never got to attempt that kick because the Packers jumped offside. That moved the field goal attempt to 48 yards. Hartley’s kick was wide left. The Packers got the ball back and ran out the clock.

Can’t blame Brees: There’s a school of thought out there that quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t stepped up enough in a season in which the Saints are without suspended coach Sean Payton. I’m not sure how much more Brees possibly could have done against the Packers. He completed 35-of-54 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns without being intercepted.

Tying the record: Brees threw a touchdown pass in his 47th consecutive game. That ties him with Johnny Unitas for the longest such streak in NFL history. Brees will get a chance to break that against the team that drafted him and later dumped him.

Colston shows up: Wide receiver Marques Colston had been very quiet in the first three games. He wasn’t quiet against the Packers. Colston had nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.

What’s next: The Saints will host San Diego at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday night.

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 30-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome on Sunday:

What it means: After a major scare, the Falcons are 4-0 and high atop the NFC South. They showed they can win on a day when they're not playing their best. Carolina played as well as it could have. But the Panthers fell to 1-3. They're in a hole, but they can take some positives from this game.

Never panic: The Falcons were up against the wall. Trailing 28-27, they took over at their own 1-yard line after a punt with 59 seconds left. Matt Ryan connected on a bomb to Roddy White and the Falcons got help from a pass interference penalty on Captain Munnerlyn. Ryan then worked the sidelines to move the ball to Carolina's 22-yard line with 10 seconds left. That's when the Falcons brought in the trusty Matt Bryant to kick the game-winning 40-yard field goal.

Cam Newton’s almost-spectacular homecoming: Newton, who grew up in the Atlanta area, bounced back in a big way after a disastrous performance 10 days ago in a loss to the New York Giants. Newton was pretty close to flawless, completing 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Newton also ran for a career-high 86 yards and had a touchdown on nine carries.

Michael Turner’s big day: After barely averaging 50 yards rushing in the first three games, there was a lot of talk that the Atlanta running back might be washed up. It turns out that was premature. Turner ran for 103 yards on 13 carries and also had a receiving touchdown. But I’m not completely convinced Turner is at the level he was a few years ago. I think Carolina’s defense played a pretty significant role in Turner’s success.

Stat of the day: The 60-yard scoring pass Turner caught in the third quarter was the first receiving touchdown of his career. He’s been in the league since 2004.

Stat of the day II: The pass Carolina receiver Armanti Edwards caught in the third quarter was the first reception of his NFL career. He’s been in the league since 2010.

Charles Johnson shows up: The highly paid Carolina defensive end didn’t have a sack and was mostly quiet in the first three games. But he exploded against Atlanta, producing 3.5 sacks and batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

What’s next: The Falcons travel to Washington to play the Redskins next Sunday. The Panthers are at home next Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.