The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the NFC Championship game as the Bucs went on the road as 2.5 point underdogs and beat the New Orleans Saints 30-20 in what may have been the last game for Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
This was the best defensive performance from the Bucs defense that we have seen this season as they forced four New Orleans turnovers in the win.
This was also the first time the Saints had four turnovers in a game since 2016 against the Buccaneers.
Devin White, Mike Edwards, and Sean Murphy-Bunting had interceptions that gave the Bucs offense a short field to work with.
Antoine Winfield Jr. made a crucial play in the third quarter with the Saints driving when he stripped the football away from Saints receiver Jared Cook to set up the Bucs offense deep in New Orleans territory.
The Bucs pass rush did not register a sack but did put enough pressure on Drew Brees to force the three turnovers.
Devin White who missed last week’s game due to being on the restricted/COVID-19 list was back in the middle of the Buccaneer defense leading the team with 11 tackles.
White talked after the game about the Buccaneer defensive game plan “It was all a team effort. I think the number-one thing is, Todd Bowles said we were going to be feisty. We’re going to challenge those guys, and he was going to take us over them. I said the same thing. I said, ‘I’m going to take my guys over their guys.’ Because I know one thing, we might be young but we can get after it when we’ve got our mindset to it.”
How good was the Buccaneer defense? Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was held without a catch for the first time in his NFL career spanning 77 career games.
One of the keys to winning this game was being able to run the ball effectively. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones formed a perfect one-two combo that wore down the Saints defense in the second half.
Fournette finished with 63 yards rushing and 107 total yards, while Jones finished with 62 yards rushing.
With Antonio Brown suffering an injury during the game, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson came up with two big-time catches to help the Bucs offense.
Although not his best game, Tom Brady completed 18/33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdown passes. The key was no turnovers by Brady and the Buccaneer offense.
Brady talked about being able to beat the Saints for the first time this season. “It feels great, obviously, to beat a great football team. That’s what feels best. It’s a team effort, and it just speaks to everybody’s commitment level in the organization, the coaches, the players, and everyone coming together. We had to play a great game for us going into this week, and our defense stepped up and played huge. The offensive line was incredible. It was just a hard-fought game, a very physical game. We’ll need to get our rest the next couple games and be ready to go for practice on Wednesday.”
Cameron Brate led the Bucs in receiving with four catches with 50 yards.
Once again, the offensive line had a great game and was able to keep the Saints defensive line off Brady most of the night. Brady was sacked just once. Guard Aaron Stinnie playing in place of Alex Cappa played one hell of a game.
Bruce Arians talked about the performance of the offensive line. “Tom was clean most of the day. I thought we did a really good job of protecting the football, not taking any chances. Aaron Stinnie played his tail off. He’s been around now for a year-and-a-half, two years. He’s a good little player.”
The Bucs will now head to Lambeau Field and a rematch with the Green Bay Packers next Sunday in the NFC Championship game.
This is the deepest playoff run for the Buccaneers since their Super Bowl run in 2003.
Devin White knows there is still work to be done. “The job’s still not finished yet. It was never about finishing with just beating the Saints. It was always about getting to the bigger goal. Tom preached that and Tom is a winner, and I’m glad to be playing under his leadership.”
This game will be different than the last game between these two teams when the Bucs beat the Packers 38-10 back in October.
The early forecast is for a chance of snow and a temperature of 24 degrees.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are now the only obstacle between the Buccaneers and another Super Bowl appearance.