New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) works against offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

It was late Sunday night and on the New Orleans Saints post-game radio show Deuce McAllister was searching for the right word to describe what had happened in the showdown between the Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa.

So McAllister reached into his trove of what he calls his “Mississippi twang” for this description: “The Saints thonked ’em.”

Rick Cleveland

You ask me, that’s some genuine rural Scott County onomatopoeia right there and it fits. The Saints’ 38-3 thrashing over the previously 6-2 Bucs was a “thonking” of the first order. The victory moves the 6-2 Saints a half game ahead of Tampa Bay in the NFC South. Two of the three Bucs defeats have been to the Saints, New Orleans now would hold the playoffs tiebreaker if the two teams wind up tied in the standings. And since the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, the other two NFC South members are sitting at 3-6, the Saints are sitting pretty.

Understand, the Saints were 4.5-point underdogs, were playing on the road and were facing Tom Brady, the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history. Brady? The Saints thonked him too, sacking him three times and swarming him many others. The Saints picked him off three times and made him look, perhaps for the first time, like the 43-year-old he is. It was the worst defeat of Brady’s Hall of Fame career.

Just goes to show that even the winning-est quarterback in league history is lost without pass protection and a running game. The Bucs had neither. Here, perhaps, is the stat of this football season: The Bucs ran the ball five times for eight yards. That’s right: five rushes in four quarters.

Deuce McAllister

Said McAllister, nearly as good as an analyst as he was as an All Pro running back: “Five runs the entire game? That’s crazy. If I were the offensive coordinator, I couldn’t face my running back after a game like that.”

McAllister, who often ran the ball five times per possession as one of the Saints all-time greats, makes a really good point. When the Saints figured out the Bucs couldn’t – or wouldn’t – run it, the defensive line began racing one another to get to Brady.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from Sunday night’s game was this: The Saints, for the first time all season, looked like a Super Bowl contender. They looked like a team that could win it all. This was their fifth straight victory but the first of those five that was by more than six points. The three others were all by three points and two of those were in overtime.

Before, the Saints were scraping by, doing just enough to win. This time, they put it all together: offense, defense and special teams.

Drew Brees, with all his receivers back from injuries and COVID, looked like the old Drew Brees and took back the NFL career lead for touchdown passes from Brady. (Brees now has 564, Brady 561.) That’s 1,125 combined touchdown passes. Let’s pause for a moment and let those numbers sink in.

Demario Davis, the Saints’ ball-hawking linebacker from Brandon, obviously did.

“You’re talking about two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game going head to head,” Davis said, post-game. “I just don’t want to move past this moment, because this is history. The fact that all of us get to be part of this, it’s just an amazing experience.”

Brady would probably have another description.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ right shoulder was often iced down at hot, humid Millsaps in 2006.

Brees did have a running game to keep the Bucs defense honest, and when the Saints threw it, he often had time to comb his thinning hair before picking out an open receiver. He looked just about as sharp as he has since he resurrected his career back at Millsaps College 14 years ago. Amazingly, he spread his 29 pass completions around to a dozen different receivers.

The Saints called on punter Thomas Morstead only once. So complete was this Saints victory, Morstead responded with a booming, sky-high 51-yarder.

Yes, it was a thonking. And Bruce Arians, the Bucs venerable head coach whose first full-time job was at Mississippi State way back in 1978, had a description that was every bit as fitting as McAllister’s.

Said Arians: “It was shocking… they kicked our ass in every phase.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.