Kenny Vaccaro is still not sure what he did wrong on a key play at the end of the first half.
Vaccaro came free on a blitz, found Jameis Winston and attacked, diving for the quarterback’s feet as Winston released the ball, forcing an incompletion.
Then the flag came. Vaccaro was flagged for roughing the passer, a flag thrown because the safety made contact with Winston’s legs. Vaccaro, who dove in an attempt to get a sack, is unsure what he should have done differently.
“I don’t know what they want us to do in that situation when the quarterback retreats,” Vaccaro said. “I don’t know. I guess don’t sack him next time.”
Vaccaro may have a case. Under NFL rule, no defensive player may hit the quarterback “flagrantly in the area of the knee(s) or below,” and Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira took issue with the call during Sunday’s broadcast, saying there was no forcible contact to the knee and that both of Winston’s feet were off the ground.
The call loomed huge at the end of the first half. If Vaccaro had not been flagged, Tampa Bay faced a third-and-6 at the New Orleans 48 with 52 seconds left. Instead, the Buccaneers got a first down at the Saints’ 33, and Winston hit Vincent Jackson for a 15-yard touchdown pass two plays later.
Vaccaro, who finished with a team-high nine tackles and broke up a pass, said he didn’t let the play affect him moving forward.
“I really can’t do anything else,” Vaccaro said. “Just play the next play.”
Snead, Ingram have highs and lows
Willie Snead’s day was mixed with highs and lows.
The wide receiver scored his first touchdown of the season on a pick play during the fourth quarter, but he also recorded his first fumble when he had the ball punched away from him by Tampa Bay defensive back D.J. Swearinger.
“It definitely feels good to get your first touchdown, but it doesn’t feel good to get your first turnover,” Snead said. “I definitely have to learn from it, watch the film, and learn from my mistake.”
Snead said he didn’t feel Swearinger coming and should have done a better job protecting the football by carrying it high and tight.
His touchdown came on a 16-yard strike that led to discussion by the officials. Snead got open by running around a pick by tight end Josh Hill. A flag was initially thrown on the play, but it was ultimately picked up.
Mark Ingram’s day also had positives and negatives. His negative was similar to Snead’s. After the Saints forced a punt in the fourth quarter, the running back caught the ball on a screen but fumbled near the sideline. Tampa recovered and added a field goal.
Like Snead, Ingram took responsibility for his mistake and vowed to be better.
“I need to hold onto the football and protect the ball,” Ingram said. “I can’t have a turnover in that situation, or any situation. I let my teammates down in a really critical part of the game where we were trying to make a drive to win the game.”
What hurt more is the fumbles erased New Orleans’ chance of fighting back into 26-19 loss.
“We were battling, and we had gotten behind,” Ingram said. “But we were making plays and got ourselves back into the game. We just have to finish. I felt like we gave ourselves a shot and just didn’t finish.”
Pass rush better
New Orleans needed to add something to the pass rush after coming away sackless in the desert against Arizona.
Rob Ryan’s answer came down to speed.
Ryan added a heavy dose of Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham, two players who got a combined four snaps against the Cardinals, to the pass rush with Cam Jordan and Hau’oli Kikaha. The Saints produced with three sacks and a forced fumble, including unrelenting pressure in the fourth quarter.
“We want to get after quarterbacks, so let’s put the fastest guys we’ve got on the field,” Edebali said. “We just tried to be aggressive and attack the offensive line.”
Using so much speed allowed Ryan to shift Jordan inside, which forced Tampa Bay’s guards to deal with the defensive end’s speed and allowed him to work with Kikaha on several snaps. Ryan also increased the workload for rookie Bobby Richardson and brought several defensive back pressures.
“It was fun,” Kikaha said. “I was glad to rush alongside Cam and basically learn from him as we’re going.”
The result? Sacks for Jordan, Kikaha and Edebali and consistent pressure on Winston. For the Saints, the only drawback was how many times Winston evaded a sack and escaped the pocket.
“I’m not sure how many pressures we got, but we were in the backfield a lot,” Jordan said. “A lot of young guys got their first taste.
Brees continues streak
Drew Brees extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass to 38 with his 16-yard completion to Snead in the fourth quarter.
The reception made Snead the 51st player Brees has connected with for a touchdown. Brandon Coleman became the 50th last week at Arizona.
Brees’ streak began against the New York Giants in 2012 in the game after his NFL record was stopped at 54 in a game at Atlanta.
The Saints got one of their key injured veterans back Sunday.
Running back C.J. Spiller made his debut in a Saints uniform, picked up 7 yards on three carries and caught one wheel route for 19 yards on his first snap as a Saint.
But Spiller was clearly limited as he recovers from the knee injury that kept him out of most of training camp. Spiller alternated putting both heat and ice on his knee between series as a precautionary measure, and for the most part, he played behind Ingram (19 touches) and Khiry Robinson (six) as the game progressed.
Now, the Saints need Spiller at full health to add some more life into a struggling offense.