NFC Divisional Round Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints

NFC Divisional Round Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints

by January 18, 2021 2 comments

Drew Brees fell short of adding a second Super Bowl title to his celebrated career after throwing three interceptions in a losing effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

The New Orleans Saints fell 30-20 to their NFC South rivals at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Divisional Playoff. Brees is widely expected to retire this offseason with a sole Lombardi Trophy to his name.

Tom Brady won six championships with the New England Patriots and is one game away from a 10th Super Bowl appearance. He’ll first have to get past Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Brady will need to play better than he did in New Orleans, where he threw for 199 yards and touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette.

The Patriots’ defense flummoxed Brees with man coverage, held Alvin Kamara to under 100 yards rushing, Michael Thomas without a catch, and forced four turnovers.

First Half

The Saints’ offense was toothless in the red zone during the first half, despite an early gift. The team forced a quick three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, then Deonte Harris returned the punt 56 yards. All Brees and company could muster was a 23-yard Wil Lutz field goal. Lutz doubled the lead later, this time from 42 yards after another promising drive stalled.

Brady finally got the Bucs moving, albeit mostly behind Fournette’s running. Unfortunately for ‘The Goat,’ ineptitude in the red zone was proving contagious, and Tampa settled for halving the deficit on Ryan Succop‘s 26-yard kick. A nine-point opening quarter was hardly what was anticipated from a game billed as a shootout between two of the game’s all-time great gunslingers.

Things came to life in the second period when Brees made the first mistake, throwing a pick to Sean Murphy-Bunting. Brady turned the theft into a touchdown courtesy of a three-yard hookup with Evans. The 6’5″ wideout has replaced Rob Gronkowski as Brady’s go-to target from close. Evans beat Marshon Lattimore, gaining a rare advantage in an otherwise one-sided matchup this season.

New Orleans responded in style, albeit from an unfamiliar source. Brees went to the sideline while Jameis Winston entered the fray.

It was Winston who connected with Tre’Quan Smith from 70 yards after some elaborate exchanges between Kamara and Emmanuel Sanders out of a wildcat look. Sean Payton had made a bold call and what added to his bravado was that he’d cribbed the play from the Saints’ fall guys in the Wildcard Round.

That’s got to sting for Chicago Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy.

The Bucs could not answer with anything as spectacular, settling for Succop’s second field goal. The 37-yarder tied the score at 13 apiece going into halftime.

Second Half

A turnover had kept the Buccaneers in the game, and they needed another after the Saints retook the lead. Smith caught his second touchdown pass, this one a 16-yarder from Brees.

The Saints looked primed to take the game from Tampa Bay until rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. knocked the ball loose from tight end Jared Cook. Devin White recovered, allowing Brady to lead a five-play drive that ended with a six-yard scoring pass to Fournette.

Tampa defensive coordinator Todd Bowles began sending pressure after Brees, and the Bucs forced a quick punt. This time it was Brady’s turn to fail to apply the coup de grâce, with Succop being called on again. The Bucs had their first lead, albeit by a slender, three-point margin, with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Brees had the stage to himself to lead a famous, fourth-quarter comeback. Instead, he was picked again when he failed to spot White, who was sitting in the hole waiting for Kamara to break over the middle.

Brady duly iced things with a scoring sneak. Mike Edwards brought the curtain down on the game, and likely Brees’ career when he snatched an interception off a deflection.

Highlights

Brees suffered a bitter end, but he had fallen victim to an opportunistic Bucs’ defense. Bowles kept safeties deep with man coverage underneath and put the onus on Kamara and Thomas to get free.

For Brady, his chief weapons made enough plays for him to feel confident about outdueling Rodgers at Lambeau Field next Saturday afternoon.

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