The Saints downed the Bucs in overtime in Week 1, 26-20, but the game was really a tail of two halves. The Saints outscored the Bucs 13-3 in the first half, but the Pewter Pirates rallied at home and sent the game into overtime by scoring 17 points and holding the Saints to one touchdown in the second half. Despite their valiant effort, the Bucs started the season with a loss, but one could say the 9-2 Bucs were a much different team on opening-day than they are now.
"That game was a long, long time ago," said Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson. "The thing that was great about it is that we bounced back. We've went 8-1 since that point and we didn't let (the loss) take us down. It was kind of eye-opening for all of us with some of the things they did to us."
Believe it or not, its loss to the Saints might have been the best thing that happened to the Buccaneers, who might have went into the regular season a bit cocky.
"That game gave us a wake-up call," said Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell. "I think that's what made us a better team."
Tampa Bay strong safety John Lynch said his team's opening-day loss wasn't an easy one to swallow, but its providing plenty of motivation for this Sunday's game.
"It was a sick feeling, literally," said Lynch, who was dealing with both the flu and the loss in Week 1. "It was just a sick feeling with all of the build up with our new head coach and we wanted to start it out right. We let a lot of people down, but we moved on. The way the year started, I think it turned into a motivating factor for us."
The Saints had a two-game lead on the Bucs in the NFC South Division a few weeks ago, but things have changed a bit over the last couple of weeks. New Orleans has lost two straight games at home and they're now 7-4, sitting in third place and trailing the Bucs by two games with just five weeks remaining in the regular season.
"The biggest thing for us right now is to get out, start fast and sustain 60 minutes of football – Buc ball," said Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "We expect them to play their best ballgame of the year because they're coming off two straight losses and taking themselves from the lead in the division to behind us, two games behind us. They don't want to be three, so it's going to be a war. Pack your hard hat."
The Bucs can pull ahead of the Saints by three games with a win Sunday night and although the Pewter Pirates are 4-1 on the road this season, winning in the Superdome hasn't been an easy task for the Bucs in the past. Tampa Bay is just 4-9 in New Orleans. But the Saints are just 3-2 at home this season and word has it that thousands of Bucs fans will invade the Superdome Sunday to cheer on the Pewter Pirates.
"They've got their fans back involved and they're selling the place out, so it's going to be a fun atmosphere to play in," said Lynch. "I'm sure we'll see a lot of pewter and red down there, too. I've talked to a lot of people in town that are talking about going down there, so that's always nice."
The stakes will be high when the Bucs and Saints clash Sunday night. Not only will the game be nationally televised on ESPN, but it will also have serious playoff implications for both teams.
"We realize that there is a lot riding on this game," said McCardell. "We need this for the NFC South Division and we need this for home-field advantage in the playoffs. We've got to go in there and play.
"The intensity in New Orleans is going to be very playoff-like, which is good. It should bring the best out of us. I think these tough games down the stretch make you a better team."
Even though it was three months ago, the Bucs players still have a very bad taste in their mouths from their loss to the Saints. A win for the Bucs would be sweet revenge for its Week 1 loss. It's a game the Bucs players feel they had no business losing.
"This is the next step we can take," said Lynch. "This is a divisional opponent and as a conference opponent, it takes on a little extra importance. And there's a little revenge in our mindset. I think you'd be lying if you didn't say so. Everybody remembers very freshly in their minds them coming into our house on opening-week under our new head coach and beating us. We've got an opportunity to pay them back."
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