One of the marquee matchups on the Week 9 card heading into the weekend was the high-profile divisional duel between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. The lead in the NFC South was on the line, pitting Tom Brady against Drew Brees as they see-sawed back and forth over the all-time touchdown pass record.
Antonio Brown was making his Tampa Bay and 2020 debut, Michael Thomas was returning to action after missing the previous six games with injuries and disciplinary reasons. All this for a primetime audience to feast on and a network’s dream for coveted Sunday night ratings.
And then, the game happened.
The Saints won a lopsided affair, handing Brady his worst professional loss, winding up with the biggest margin of victory in the entire NFL this season. New Orleans walked off of Raymond James Stadium with a 38-3 victory, and not only sole possession of first in the division, but the top seed in the NFC as well.
Following the game, Saints WR Tre’Quan Smith posted a video to his Instagram feed of players and coaches celebrating the win in the locker room. Normally, this is typical behavior, but not in 2020 as those in the video were clearly not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and now they face harsh punishment. Smith’s original video and original videos from the team’s social media pages have been removed, but the league took notice and are now taking action.
According to reports, the Saints are facing stiff fines, and the loss of draft picks in what will become a repeat offense. Just last week, the Raiders were fined $650,000 and docked a draft pick for violating Covid-19 protocols, setting a precedent for what New Orleans should come to expect this week.
Ironically, the Saints were fined the first time around for not properly wearing masks on the sideline during their Week 2 loss to the Raiders. Head coach Sean Payton was hit with a $100,000 fine and the Saints as a team another $250,000.
Among the players seen in the Smith video (as well as videos from other Saints) included Demario Davis and Jameis Winston. Winston made his season debut in the Sunday night victory, relieving Brees in mop-up time, facing his former team in the Bucs who he played for the previous five seasons after being selected with the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Florida State product completed the only pass he threw for 12 yards, mostly running out the clock in the 35-point drubbing.
As noted, the Saints have ascended to the top of the NFC standings, holding the tiebreaker over Green Bay and Seattle by virtue of their win percentage in conference games. They’ve won five in a row after starting the season 1-2 and are hosting the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10 as 9.5-point favorites.