With a deep and talented receiving corps back in play, Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints stay hot

Apparently, the return of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders helped to wake up a sleeping giant on Sunday night.

The New Orleans Saints (6-2) took control of the NFC South race with a stunning 38-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) in Tampa, Florida.

It was the worst loss of Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady's career and one of the most convincing wins in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. The Saints' victory was so thorough that former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston made his 2020 debut as New Orleans' backup, completing his only pass for 12 yards while running out the clock over the final six minutes.

Not only did the Saints complete a season sweep of the Buccaneers after beating them 34-23 in Week 1, but they also seem to have fully gotten their mojo back with their offensive lineup intact for the first time since Thomas left that Week 1 game in the final minutes with a high ankle sprain.

"It's been a long time coming, just trying to play a complete game on offense, and I think that's the most complete game we've played," running back Alvin Kamara said. "You see what it looks like -- it's poetry in motion when we get going like that."

Thomas wasn't dominant in his return, catching five passes for 51 yards Sunday night. But his presence helped to open things up for a Saints offense that could do no wrong.

"It felt great just to be out there with the guys and dominate the game on all sides of the ball," he said. "That's what we expect as an offense, that's the standard. That's how we've been trying to play the past six weeks. Unfortunately, I wasn't out there to help the guys, but I'm back out there and I'm trying to do my job to the best of my abilities, and we're all complementing each other.

"[Coach] Sean Payton calls tremendous plays. Every play he called tonight was working. So, if we protect the ball, we're gonna be a dominant offense."

Thomas spoke Sunday for the first time since he was disciplined by the Saints for an altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

"My emotions got the best of me in that situation, and I've grown from that. And I'm here to help my team win games and ... win a championship," said Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches last season. "So, I'm just here to contribute and add value to the offense and add value to this team and help my guys win."

The Saints became just the third team in the past 30 years to have 12 different players catch a pass, according to the Elias Sports Bureau data. Brees completed passes to 11 different players in the first 19 minutes alone while New Orleans ran up a 31-0 lead in the first half.

Even more remarkably, Brees was on the injury report all week because of an injury to his right throwing shoulder that limited him in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. It didn't show, as he threw four touchdown passes to regain his lead over Brady as the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns (564-561).

"I'd say those [dominant performances] are rare, especially against a football team as good as the one we just played," Brees said. "As many weapons as they have on the offensive side of the ball, our defense just played phenomenal."

Sanders, who was back in the lineup after missing the past two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list, caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown.

"It was great to have everybody back there. I know Mike was excited; I know Emmanuel Sanders was excited. I think, honestly, my biggest thing coming into the game was just to keep those guys calm and slowly bring them back into it, and not make it to where the expectations were at a certain level," Brees said. "So, I think the balance of how much those guys played, their production, getting them re-indoctrinated was just perfect."

The Saints have now won five in a row.