To many folks, the Buccaneers are up against it as they head to the Big Easy for a Sunday night NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Saints.
It’s not hard to see why that’s the case. As talented as Tampa Bay is, New Orleans has seemingly been its kryptonite in 2020. A 34-23 loss in Week 1 started the season on a bad note before the team’s chance at redemption turned into an embarrassing 38-3 home loss in Week 9.
But of course, they play the games for a reason and the Bucs are intent on righting the ship and getting to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in nearly 20 years. If they’re going to do so, they may very well have to win a shootout inside the Superdome.
The bad news for the Bucs is that they haven’t beaten the Saints since Week 1 of the 2018 season. However, the good news is that their last win over the four-time defending NFC South champions was of the shootout variety. That’s right, their last win in the series was that 48-40 upset led by none other than Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In that win, Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, plus he added a fifth score on the ground. Mike Evans caught seven passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, while DeSean Jackson went for 146 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Ryan Smith and Justin Evans both recovered fumbles, with Evans returning his for a touchdown. All of that sounds like a great recipe for a win, doesn’t it?
If the scoreboard is being lit up during this Sunday’s game, you’d have to think that favors Tampa Bay. That’s not because of what happened in 2018, of course, but it’s just more of this team’s style. The Bucs are built more for hitting the big plays, scoring a lot of points and bending but not breaking too much on defense. That does sound a lot like what they did so well in that 2018 game, doesn’t it?
Now, no one is asking for Tom Brady to throw for over 400 yards and total five touchdowns. Mike Evans doesn’t have to go for 147 yards, and Antonio Brown doesn’t have to put up the same kind of stat line Jackson did. But if the Bucs can get some of those big plays that they love so much—like they did back in that 2018 season opener—they’ll alleviate some of the pressure that their defense may be feeling. And that could make all the difference in this one.
If—and perhaps that’s a big if considering what happened in Week 9—Brady and the offense are clicking, the Tampa Bay defense will just need a few stops here and there. Some turnovers would obviously help. That’s no easy task, though. While this year’s Drew Brees isn’t the same as the 2018 Drew Brees that threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns in that 48-40 game, New Orleans’ offense can still score. Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris, Jared Cook and Taysom Hill all contribute to a pretty dangerous offense, and it’s not like Brees is a liability. Even in a more limited physical capacity, his intelligence and awareness are key. So, yes. The Bucs may give up some points on Sunday. But if they can get those key stops, they could be in pretty good shape.
Big plays and clean football on the offensive side of the ball combined with an opportunistic effort on defense will probably be the recipe for Tampa Bay on Sunday. But everyone knows that such a simple recipe isn’t easily translated on the field. This team is going to have to bring it if it wants a shot at playing for the NFC Championship.