Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees meet on the football field following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-20 win over New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional playoff game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 17, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
By: Mike Sampogna
The Buccaneers were looking for their first win in the divisional round since 2002 where they won the Super Bowl that year. A matchup that was expected to be a duel between two of the all-time greats at quarterback, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, turned out to be more of a battle between the two teams' running game and defense. Turnovers were also the difference maker in this game as the Saints turned the ball over a total of four times, meanwhile the Buccaneers kept the ball safe with zero turnovers. This game was tightly contested with four lead changes throughout until the fourth quarter when the Buccaneers were able to run away with some coslty turnovers by the Saints offense.
Brady and the Buccaneers offense started with the ball in the opening quarter in which they would be forced into a three and out by a stout Saints defense. A 43-yard punt by Bradley Pinion was returned 54-yards by Deonte Harris who initially appeared to be tackled by Jaydon Mickens. This stellar punt return set the Saints up in favourable field position, however the Buccaneers defence was able to hold them to nine yards on the drive leading to a 23-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz.
With a 3-0 lead and plenty of time left in the first quarter, the Buccaneers got the ball back only to be stopped by a strong Saints defense that would force another three and out. Following the second punt of the game, Harris would get another chance at a punt return in which he brought this one 67-yards for a touchdown. The play would be brought back and the score nullified by an illegal block penalty on the Saints player Carl Granderson.
Nonetheless, the Saints would start at their own 30-yard line and manage to march down to Tampa Bay’s 24-yard line courtesy of plays by running backs Alvin Kamara and Ty Montgomery. Lutz would complete a 42-yard field goal making the score 6-0 for the Saints with four minutes and 44 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay needed to get some points on the board in which they did by driving down the field on a 15 play drive that would get them a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Succop. Brady completed a crucial fourth and one play early in the drive where he carried the ball for a quarterback sneak and moved the chains. This score would take place in the beginning stages of the second quarter.
Brees and the Saints offence would get the ball back following the Buccaneers drive that changed the score to 6-3. On a second and nine, Brees would make an ill-advised throw intended for Michael Thomas that would lead to an interception by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. The interception would be returned to the Saints three yard line and the Buccaneers would capatalize quickly on offence with a passing touchdown caught by wide receiver Mike Evans.
With Saints surrendering the lead and the score now being 10-6 for the Buccaneers, Brees needed to respond after the turnover he just committed. The Saints offence would score a touchdown, however Brees would not be the one to throw the ball. Backup quarterback Jameis Winston lined up as a wide receiver as the ball was snapped to Kamara. He would then flick the ball to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders who pitched the ball back to Winston in which he would throw the ball downfield to a wide open Tre’Quan Smith that would take it all the way into the Buccaneers endzone making the score 13-10.
This 56-yard touchdown pass would be the longest passing play by the Saints offence as Brees would not be able to find the long ball the rest of the game.
The Buccaneers were able to muster up a field goal within the last two minutes of the second quarter mostly due to running back Leonard Fournette accumulating 40 scrimmage yards on the drive. Heading into halftime the score was all tied up at 13-13 and what looked like a competitive second half awaited.
New Orleans started with possession in the third quarter and came out with a promising drive. Kamara and Montgomery accounted for 57 total yards on this drive. The efficient work by both running backs would assist in a 16-yard passing touchdown to Smith which gave him his second score on the day giving the Saints a 20-13 lead. This strong drive by the Saints offence would prove to be their last productive drive of the game as the Buccaneers defense would dominate the rest of the game.
Following a punt from a Buccaneers possession, tight end Jared Cook would catch a pass from Brees only to have the ball stripped by rookie free safety Antoine Winefield Jr. The football would be recovered by linebacker Devin White and returned for 18-yards in Saints territory. Brady would then move the ball into the redzone and throw a six yard touchdown pass to Fournette. The Buccaneers would then add on to their lead with a field goal in the beginning of the fourth quarter making the score 23-20 following a Saints punt.
Brees would throw two interruptions in the fourth quarter making his total on the game three. One of the turnovers would lead to a quarterback sneak touchdown by Brady giving the Buccaneers a strong 10 point lead. The second turnover would ultimately end any potential comeback for the Saints and potentially be Brees’ last throw in his career.
The game would come to an end following a few rushes for a first down and a couple quarterback kneels afterwards. Both Brady and Brees shared an emotional moment postgame as both teams met on the field congratulating one another on a remarkable playoff game and season.
Both quarterbacks were held under 200-yards passing in the game credit to elite defensive play on both sides. Michael Thomas was targeted four times, however he did not complete a catch within the game. Kamara and Fournette both gained over 100 scrimmage yards in the game with Fournette having a slight edge and a touchdown reception.
The Buccaneers are heading to the NFC Championship game and Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, the Saints are heading into the offseason after a season filled with hope for a Super Bowl win in what could potentially be Brees’ last season as reports suggest retirement is more than likely. Brees has not made an official statement of whether he will be returning next season or hanging up the jersey. Prior to this season, Brees signed a contract with NBC to be a part of the sports broadcasting in which he would be a commentator for NFL games. Time will tell what the 42-year-old veteran decides, however the one thing that is certain about Brees’ future is the Hall of Fame awaits this New Orleans legend.