A New Orleans Saints team surrounded by Super Bowl expectations was dealt a sobering reminder of NFL reality in its season opener on Sunday.
Momentum can't be stored in the offseason.
The flood of optimism surrounding the Saints evaporated in the heat coming off of Ryan Fitzpatrick's arm during Tampa Bay's 48-40 upset at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the fifth consecutive loss for the Saints in an opener.
"Nothing from last year carries over to this year," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I've said it a million times. Not a single thing carries over."
New Orleans (0-1) opened its season as a 10-point favorite, the biggest favorite in the NFL in Week 1, because of the reputation the Saints built during a resurgent 2017 campaign that brought an NFC South division title back to New Orleans and ended in heartbreak on the brink of the NFC championship game.
Tampa Bay (0-1) had none of that goodwill. A darling at this time last year, the Buccaneers opened this season trying to erase the disappointment of failed expectations behind its backup quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, forced into action by the suspension of starter Jameis Winston.
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Fitzpatrick promptly took a blowtorch to the betting line and all of those expectations.
A 35-year-old journeyman who has had bouts of success in his travels around the NFL, Fitzpatrick hit the Saints' defense with haymaker after haymaker in one of the best performances of his career.
Fitzpatrick racked up 417 yards on just 21 completions, tossed four touchdowns and rushed for 36 yards, repeatedly buying time and picking up first downs with his legs.
A New Orleans defense that ended years of frustration with an attacking, aggressive style last season looked instead like the overmatched units that weighed down the Saints in consecutive 7-9 campaigns the previous three seasons.
Flush with young talent and perceived depth, the Saints defense was touted as one of the NFL's defenses on the rise.
For at least one day, Tampa made all the strides of last season feel like a fluke.
"We needed this," Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. "We needed to get slapped in our face one good time to see that we’re not on the level we think we’re on."
Fitzpatrick provided the wake-up call. A 58-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on a busted coverage and a 50-yard touchdown to Mike Evans in single coverage gave Tampa Bay one more 50-yard completion than the Saints allowed all of last year; New Orleans gave up eight plays of 20 yards or more.
The Saints' young secondary, the backbone of last year's defense, found itself overmatched against Evans (7 catches, 147 yards), Jackson (5-146) and the rest of Tampa Bay's talented receiving corps.
"I think we match up well with who they have," safety Kurt Coleman said. "I would take our guys over their guys. Honestly, we didn't make plays."
New Orleans struggled so much on the defensive side of the ball that a throwback performance from Drew Brees and a record-setting day from Michael Thomas weren't enough to keep Tampa Bay from piling up a 48-24 lead in the second half.
Brees completed 82.2 percent of his passes for an eye-popping 439 yards and three touchdowns, Thomas racked up 16 catches for 180 yards and a score, and Alvin Kamara added three touchdowns.
But Tampa Bay was so effective on offense that two mistakes by the New Orleans offense — Mike Gillislee's second-quarter fumble returned for a score by safety Justin Evans and a third-quarter fumble by Thomas — put the Saints in a hole too deep for Brees.
"We kind of got the feeling that was the way the game was going, but gain, that does not affect our mentality offensively until you get in a position where it's the fourth quarter and it's 48-24 and you have to score quick," Brees said.
A late flurry by Brees wasn't enough to give the Saints one last chance to tie the game. After his touchdown pass to Kamara and a 2-point conversion throw to Ted Ginn, the Bucs converted the first down they needed to run out the clock when Fitzpatrick ran for 12 yards on third-and-11.
New Orleans has been in this position before. The Saints opened the 2017 season 0-2 before going on an eight-game winning streak.
But this is a different season, a different problem to overcome.
"Last season was a different team," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "This is a new team. This is something we have to focus on. Instead of trying to turn around, we need to push forward."
For the fifth consecutive season, the Saints find themselves opening the season from behind.
Austin Carr waited patiently for his chance.
A record-setting performance got lost among all of Tampa Bay’s offensive fireworks Sunday.