Riding a six-game winning streak, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got hot when it counted the most and have stayed on top after defeating the New Orleans Saints 30-20 on Sunday night.
The offense sputtered early and the defense looked vulnerable at times. Hell, even Jameis Winston made a highlight reel appearance and now has a perfect career playoff quarterback rating.
Highs and lows were evident throughout the game, but at the end of it all Tampa Bay left New Orleans with a win. And isn’t that what really matters?
YOUNG DEVIN’S DEBUT
Forced to miss the Wild Card Round because his team played one day too early for him to clear COVID-19 protocols, Devin White didn’t get his first crack at the playoffs until this weekend. And boy did he show up.
The stat box alone looks pretty good. Eleven tackles (led the team and tied for most in the game with Saints safety, Malcolm Jenkins), one tackle for a loss, a pass defense, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Not bad.
It was more than just numbers though. White was all over the field from pre-snap to the whistle. On one particularly intelligent sequence, White was pursuing a New Orleans ball carrier looking to lay down a momentum-shifting type of hit near the sideline.
Just before arriving at the contact point, however, the whistle blew as the player stepped out of bounds. White was able to pull up, choosing smart football over emotional football, and his team got the ball back just a short while later.
It seems small. Probably didn’t stand out to most during the game. But we’ve all seen what the Saints can do with a free fifteen-yards.
His energy and production helped propel the team to the NFC Championship Game, but his smart play is what got them to a winning situation in the first place.
MIKE EVANS AND CHRIS GODWIN’S QUIET NIGHT
Now, don’t get me wrong here, I would’ve much rather seen Mike Evans and Chris Godwin going for 100-yards each and a touchdown each. The Saints came in looking to shut out Tampa Bay’s two best receivers, and statistically, they did it.
Call me Pollyanna if you want, but the fact the Bucs not only looked for other ways to beat the Saints defense but succeeded in doing so, is good news moving forward.
In games past, we might have seen this squad force the ball to their most talented play-makers time and time again. This is what teams like the Saints want. They want your quarterback throwing into double coverage just so your star can have a shot at the ball. Because then, so does the defense.
What they don’t want to see is your second tight end, who is really your third tight end, making plays all over the field and leading the team in receiving.
That’s exactly what New Orleans got on Sunday night though as Cam Brate hauled in four catches for fifty-yards. Tampa Bay’s leading receiver in catches? Leonard Fournette of course - not of course - had five on six targets and scored on one of them.
In fact, Godwin was the Bucs’ leading wide receiver with four catches for thirty-four yards. Good enough to be the second-leading wide receiver on the Saints’ roster and third on their team.
Godwin had other chances of course, and we’re all looking forward to seeing him figure out those yips next weekend.
In the meantime though, the Bucs just won a playoff game by two scores and did so in large part without dominating production from two of the best in the game.
EFFICIENCY OVER ELECTRICITY
No risk it, no biscuit. Air Raid offense. Whatever you want to attach to it, the Buccaneers offense is known for wanting big shots, often.
On Sunday night, they tried to take some, but in the end, it was a twenty-nine-yard pass to Scotty Miller which proved to be Tom Brady’s longest completion of the game.
The other side faired a bit better with their longest pass being a 56-yard bomb to Tre’Quan Smith.
In a primetime heavyweight fight, however, it’s rarely the guy who lands the first haymaker that wins the match. It’s the fighter who can stick in there for the long haul and find the right opportunities to strike.
This was the Buccaneers offense on Sunday. Efficient, not electric. They left the fireworks to the defense.
Taking what the defense gave him, Brady averaged just 6.03 yards per attempt, his lowest average in a Bucs win this season. It’s also just the second time this year the Buccaneers won when Brady’s quarterback rating fell under 100. The other win coming against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2.
It wasn’t the hallmark game of a team led by the greatest quarterback to ever play, and one of the most aggressive coaches in the game. But it worked, and similar to what the previous ‘Best’ presents, it gives the Green Bay Packers plenty to think about before next weekend.
The officiating in this game was bad. And not in an ‘NFL Officiating is a train-wreck’ kind of bad. A special kind of bad.
Between the weak and incorrect calls they did make, and the bad penalties they missed, the officiating crew stuck their nose into this match-up far too often when it wasn’t needed and not enough when it was.
We fall short of saying they changed the course of the game in the end, but the opportunities for them to do so certainly existed.
Given the temperamental relationship between these two teams, I imagine this crew came into the game looking to squelch fires before they erupted but went too far in doing so it seems.
Football is an emotional sport and when two teams see each other as often as these two do, it’s easy to see how things can go a little overboard at times. Still, it isn’t the job of the official to penalize aggression to the point of submission. Something this crew seemed to be hell-bent on achieving.
The Buccaneers’ offense had seven drives which didn’t start because of a defensive takeaway. On those seven drives, they earned twelve first downs and nine points. They had four drives start due to takeaways, and on those series, they collected eight first downs and twenty-one points.
I’ve always said as long as one side of the ball is bringing juice to the game then there’s a chance for success. But this was a whole new level. If the Buccaneers defense didn’t bring the juice into every possession, it wasn’t going to happen is how it went down on Sunday night.
While it was good to see the team find other players to get the ball moving on offense, they can’t rely on the defense to do have a similar type of performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Or can they? No. No, they can’t.
OUT-KICKING YOUR COVERAGE
This saying can mean many things in life, but in this instance, it means the Buccaneers literally set their kick coverage up for failure. At least early on. Specifically, it was their punt coverage, not kickoff coverage.
On the first punt of the game, Bradley Pinion sent the ball directly to dangerous Saints return man Deonte Harris who quickly brought the ball back to the Tampa Bay twenty-one yard line after a 54-yard return.
After another three and out, Pinion again booted the ball to Harris, and he returned it all the way to the end zone for what seemed to be the first touchdown of the game. It was nullified due to a holding penalty, but even without the penalty, Harris would have had a solid return setting up his offense in a good field position.
Fortunately, those were the only two punt return tries Harris got. They could’ve set the Saints up with a 14-0 lead if it wasn’t for the strong performance of the defense.
A franchise known for special teams struggles should be waking up today thankful for their early struggles in football’s third phase didn’t derail things altogether.
What was THE BEST part of the Divisional Round win?
This poll is closed
Devin White and the Defense
Unusual Suspects on Offense
Taking What the Defense Gave Them
BONUS: Sending Drew Brees to Retirement
What was THE WORST part of the Divisional Round win?
This poll is closed
Not Scoring Without Turnovers
Special Teams Coverage
BONUS: NOTHING! BUCS WIN!