SWEET, SWEET REVENGE!
After getting swept by the Saints in the regular season by a combined score of 72-26, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invaded the Port of New Orleans and ended the Saints season, and probably Drew Brees career, defeating them 30-20 in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday.
It was a heavyweight fight from start to finish, but it was the Bucs who were left standing in the end. Both offenses struggled. Both defenses dominated. And just like the other two matchups before, this game came down to turnovers. Only this time, Tampa Bay was on the winning side of that battle.
You would think that a Buccaneers road win in the divisional round of the playoffs would be all GOOD and no BAD, but there’s always things that could’ve been better about every game. Don’t get me wrong there was plenty of GOOD in this game, but there was also plenty of BAD that the Bucs need to improve on if they want to go to Green Bay and come out with a “W” next week. So here’s what I saw in the Bucs vs Saints Part 3 on Sunday.
The Offensive Line
The offensive line on any team is always the unsung heroes. They do the dirty dirty work and get none of the spotlight and barely any credit. This Buccaneers o-line has been playing outstanding over most of this season. This game was no different. They only gave up one sack to one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Saints ran what looked like a twist and left guard Ali Marpet got beat and gave up his first sack since Week 6 of 2019. Other than that, they kept Tom Brady pretty clean for most of the game. They also ran the ball 35 times for 127 yards. All of this despite missing starter Alex Cappa at right guard, even though Aaron Stinnie did step in and play well. If this o-line can continue to play like this, the Bucs will be tough to beat no matter how cold it is next week.
The Run Offense
There’s no doubt that the Bucs are a pass first offense however, they have been more balanced with the run game as of late. In this game, with the passing offense struggling at times, the Bucs run offense picked up the slack running the ball 35 times for 127 yards. Leonard Fournette had 17 carries for 63 yards and a 3.7 yards per carry average. And Ronald Jones had 13 carries for 62 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average, despite playing with an injured quad. Jones should be healthier by Sunday when they face the Packers 11th ranked rush defense that allowed 112 yards per game this season and 120 yards per game over their last three.
The Pass Defense
This was one of the best games that we’ve seen from this young Buccaneers secondary. They held Drew Brees to just 19 completions, 134 yards and 3.9 yards per attempt (fifth lowest of his 304 game career) on 34 attempts. Carlton Davis held Saints receiver Michael Thomas to ZERO YARDS and ZERO CATCHES on 4 targets. The Saints leading receiver for the game was Tre’Quan Smith who finished with 3 catches for 85 yards and 2 touchdowns, one of those being the 56 yard trick play thrown by Jameis Winston.
After Brees had thrown just one interception in their last nine meetings, the Bucs intercepted him three times in this game. It’s the first time he’s thrown three picks since 2016 (against the Bucs) AND the first time he’s thrown three picks in his 17 career playoff games. All three interceptions were by 2019 draft picks Sean Murphy-Bunting, Devin White and Mike Edwards. In fact, Murphy-Bunting joins Ronde Barber as the ONLY players with interceptions in back to back playoff games in team history.
The WR Depth
The Saints defense did a pretty decent job holding the Bucs potent passing attack in check. Mike Evans only had one catch for 3 yards, though it was a touchdown. Antonio Brown had one catch for 10 yards. Rob Gronkowski had one catch for 14 yards. And Chris Godwin had 3 catches for 34 yards.
The Bucs leading receivers in this game were Cam Brate with 4 catches for 50 yards and Leonard Fournette with 5 catches for 44 yards. But that’s not the reason I’m bringing up their depth. In the beginning of the fourth quarter of the game, with the score tied 20-20, Tom Brady led the Bucs on an 11 play/61 yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes off of the clock and ended in a go ahead field goal. During that drive, rookie receiver Tyler Johnson made an amazing catch on the sideline, his only one of the game, on third & 11 to keep the sticks moving and the drive alive. Three plays later, with the Bucs facing third & 5, Brady completed his longest pass of the day to a streaking Scotty Miller who made an acrobatic catch in between two defenders for a 29 yard gain and another first down. And they still have Justin Watson who wasn’t even active for this game. When healthy, the WR depth on this team is insane. The question is, will they be healthy for next week after Brown went for an MRI on his knee on Monday?
Ryan Succop has continued his successful kicking ways into the postseason where he is now 7 for 7 on field goals AND 4 for 4 on extra points in the Bucs two playoff games. He made all six of his kicks on Sunday (3 fg’s/3 xp’s) against the Saints.
Devin FREAKIN White
After having to sit out the Bucs wildcard playoff game against Washington, Devin White came into New Orleans like a hurricane. He was all over the field finishing this game with a team high 11 tackles, an interception AND a fumble recovery. He added an energy and a swagger to the defense that wasn’t there last week and should be given a bulk of the credit for them shutting down the Saints offense.
This game, like most others in the NFL, came down to the turnover battle. In the two previous meetings this season, the Bucs lost that battle by a combined 6-2 turnover ratio. In this game, they won that battle 4-0, scoring touchdowns off of three of them. Brady threw five interceptions in those first two games and zero in this one, while Brees had three in this one after zero in the first two games. The four takeaways were the third most in a single game in Buccaneers postseason history.
I don’t know if it was the return of Devin White to the defense or just the Bucs being tired of getting bullied by the Saints, but this Buccaneers team was playing their most physical football of the season on Sunday. Alex Anzalone is probably still having nightmares about Ryan Jensen. Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting were assaulting Michael Thomas at the line of scrimmage. Lavonte David was calling out Alvin Kamara on the sidelines. Devin White was destroying everything in his path. And Mike Evans and Marshawn Lattimore were going back and forth as usual. It was so fun to watch this team play with that kind of attitude and nastiness. Now they need to keep it going against the Packers.
The Firsts of Many
Since this is the first season the Buccaneers have been in the playoffs in 13 years, there were a number of “firsts” in Sunday’s game. Mike Evans recorded his FIRST career playoff receiving touchdown, which happened to be Tom Brady’s 76th passing touchdown in the playoffs. Antoine Winfield Jr recorded his FIRST career playoff forced fumble and Devin White had his FIRST career playoff fumble recovery AND his FIRST career playoff interception. Leonard Fournette caught his FIRST career playoff touchdown pass, giving him six total touchdowns in five career playoff games. And Mike Edwards also had the FIRST playoff interception of his young career.
The Defensive Line
The Bucs defensive line was never able to get to Drew Brees for a sack, but they made him just uncomfortable enough to make some really bad throws. They now have just 2 sacks in two playoff games. Even though the pressure wasn’t bad in this game, it needs to be much better against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers next Sunday.
The Pass Offense
Tom Brady and the Bucs offense struggled to get things going against a very good Saints pass defense who finished ranked 5th in the league. He finished 18 of 33 for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns and only completed one pass over 20 yards. The offensive line was giving him time, but the Saints secondary was able to hold Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski to just seven TOTAL catches with Godwin having four of those. They face another good test with the 7th ranked pass defense of the Packers next week.
The Run Defense
Tampa Bay’s defensive line finished the regular season as the NFL’s #1 rushing defense giving up just 82 yards per game. Unfortunately in their last three games, they’re giving up nearly 106 yards per game. Against the Saints, they gave up 104 yards on 25 carries including 18 carries for 85 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average to Alvin Kamara. It was still 30 yards under their season average of 138 yards per game however, they were without Taysom Hill and Latavius Murray. Next week, they’ll be facing Aaron Jones and the Packers 8th ranked rushing offense that averaged 135 yards per game. Hopefully, the Bucs can get run stopper Vita Vea back in time to help out.
The Kick Coverage
This game did not start out the way Bucs fans had hoped. After the Bucs offense went three and out on their opening drive, the Saints Deonte Harris returned Bradley Pinion’s first punt of the day 54 yards down to the Bucs 21 yard line. Bucs linebacker Jack Cichy suffered a broken arm on the play. Fortunately, the defense was able to hold the Saints offense to just a field goal.
On the very next Bucs punt, after another three and out by the offense, Harris had another big return of 67 yards for a touchdown. Luckily for the Bucs, it was nullified by a block in the back call that probably didn’t even effect the return. From that point on the coverage was much better, but those first two punts could’ve been disastrous for the Buccaneers.
The Garbage Play
About midway through the second quarter, Sean Payton pulled Drew Brees out and sent Jameis Winston out on to the field where he lined up on the outside as a wide receiver with Alvin Kamara in shotgun. At the snap, Emmanuel Sanders ran a sweep where Kamara tossed him the ball as he ran towards Winston’s side. Sanders then tossed it to Winston who threw it to a wide open Tre’Quan Smith for a 56 yard touchdown. The score against blown coverage was bad enough. The fact that Jameis Winston was the one who threw it is what really hurt.
The End of an Era
For 15 years now, Drew Brees has been the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. And twice a year for those 15 years, he has terrorized the Buccaneers defense and terrified Buccaneers fans. It just doesn’t seem right that his career is likely ending after a loss in the playoffs where he only threw for 134 yards on 34 attempts and had 3 interceptions. Don’t get me wrong, as a Bucs fan, I wouldn’t want it any other way. As a football fan, I think a first ballot Hall of Famer like Brees deserves a better send off. Just not against my team.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
With the win in New Orleans, the Buccaneers are now heading back to the NFC Championship for the fourth time in team history. For Tom Brady, it will be his 14th appearance in a conference championship. They will be facing the Green Bay Packers in the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau Field. It will be the early game on Sunday kicking off at 3:05pm. The weather forecast for Green Bay at the time of kickoff is supposed to be 27 degrees with a 60% chance of snow. Not quite the winter weather that most Bucs players are used to, but Tom Brady is.
This game was gratifying in so many ways. After getting swept by the Saints in the regular season. After that 38-3 loss. After the ridiculous locker room celebration by the Saints after that win. After five straight losses to them. To win in the Superdome. To win when it REALLY counted. To shut up Cam Jordan, at least for a little while. To end the Saints season and most likely send Drew Brees off to the broadcast booth. It’s one of the more memorable franchise wins in team history.
Speaking of wins, the Bucs have now won six in a row which matches the longest streak in team history. They’ve also won seven straight on the road and are now 8-2 this season away from home. After one road playoff wins in 44 years, they now have won twice on the road in less than a week.
Now they’re traveling to one of the most iconic AND toughest places to play in the NFL…Lambeau Field in January. So what do they need to do to beat the Packers? Pretty much everything they did to beat the Saints. The offensive line has to protect Tom Brady AND run the ball effectively when they need to. Win the turnover battle. Make Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable enough to make some mistakes. And for God’s sake, please keep playing more press man coverage instead of that soft zone crap. IF they do all of that, then they should be coming back home to get ready to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. IF they don’t, they’ll be coming back home to pack up their lockers. Sunday should be a fun game to watch!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!