Buccaneers knock the Saints out of playoffs and advance to conference championship

By: Michelle Sabin

Sports Talk Florida – Bucs Reporter 

They say revenge is a dish best served cold.

In the Divisional playoff round, Tampa Bay faced New Orleans for the third time this season.  The Saints beat the Buccaneers in both regular season match-ups. In week 1, the Bucs put up a sloppy performance and lost 34-23.  In week 9, they played even worse and had a 38-3 loss for which Head Coach Bruce Arians admitted, “[the Saints] kicked our ass in every phase.”

That certainly was not the case on Sunday night.  The Buccaneers finally demonstrated what they were capable of and knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs with a 30-20 win. 

While the Buccaneers offense delivered the points, it was their young defense that kept the momentum going for the win.  They forced four turnovers, including an interception by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting at the start of the second quarter.  

Murphy-Bunting ran the ball back 36 yards to the New Orleans 3-yard line where he was pushed out of bounds.  Brady took advantage of the field position and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the endzone. Murphy-Bunting said, “I’m actually kind of upset I didn’t get in the end zone, but Mike did so that’s all that matters.”

The Saints responded by using their backup quarterback, and former Buccaneer, Jameis Winston, who threw a 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play.  

The game was tied 13-13 at the half, but the Bucs defense was not done yet.  In the middle of the third quarter, rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. forced a fumble recovered by inside linebacker Devin White.  White said “it popped right into my hands. It was time to get busy. [I] turned into a running back.” 

White ran the ball 18 yards to the New Orleans 40-yard line.  The Bucs again capitalized on the turnover with a 5-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass to running back Leonard Fournette. 

In the fourth quarter, with a win on the horizon, Bucs defense intercepted Brees two more times.  The first was a short pass intercepted by Devin White, who took it 28 yards to the New Orleans 20-yard line.  The turnover resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Brady, who locked in the lead at 30-20.  

Bucs safety Mike Edwards picked up the last interception with 4:25 left on the clock and the Saints fate was sealed.  As the clock ran down, it was clear that the Bucs not only beat the Saints but they did so with a vengeance, knocking their division rival out of the playoffs. 

Throughout the game, it was the young Buccaneers defense leading the charge.  They played remarkably better than last week against Washington, and at a level necessary to stay alive in the post-season. 

Brady said, “the way the defense played today, they were spectacular.”  They were able to contain running back Alvin Kamara in the second half, maintain enough pressure on Drew Brees to disrupt his passing game, and came away with huge turnovers when it mattered most. 

One reason the defense was so explosive may have been the return of starting linebacker Devin White.  He had been on the Covid-19 reserve list and unable to play for two weeks, but was finally cleared last Sunday. 

White’s impact was evident throughout the game.  In addition to his interception and fumble recovery, he came away with 11 total tackles. 

Murphy-Bunting explained, “Devin is a baller. He is just known for making plays. He was an energy bug and that kind of energy is contagious.”  Arians added, “everybody’s criticizing how [Devin White] can’t cover anybody, I think he just proved he can.”

White was humble after the game, crediting the team effort and recognizing that the “number one thing was that the team got the victory.”  He described the defense on Sunday as “feisty” at the line of scrimmage interrupting the timing of plays.  He added, “it wasn’t anything Drew Brees did, it was everything our defense did.”

White explained, “our whole mindset this weekend was ‘they won the first two rounds, we’ve got to win round 3’ and that’s what we did.”

The Buccaneers are now one game closer to a Super Bowl berth.  Tampa Bay takes on Green Bay in the NFC Championship game Sunday at 3:05pm.

They beat the Packers once already in week 6 (38-10).  Undoubtedly, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his team will be seeking their own revenge, but the Bucs look ready for the challenge. 

As Arians said Sunday night, “this is what [the Buccaneers] are capable of playing.”

The video used in this story was provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Youtube channel.