For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losing both of their matchups to the New Orleans Saints during the regular season made them easy underdogs — for some — for their Divisional Round bout against the Saints Sunday.
Including New Orleans themselves, and rightfully so.
Quarterback Drew Brees had his way often throughout both games against the Bucs during the regular season. The Saints defense presented problems for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense. Bucs couldn’t answer the Saints. At all.
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan got things going in August after being asked about Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Brady. Jordan thought the Bucs got the “second best quarterback of all-time” and the Bucs were a team “fighting for second place” in the division.
Then you have cornerback Marshon Lattimore who likes to feel great about his play against wide receiver Mike Evans. Following their second win over the Bucs in the regular season, he wished Evans well.
Who can forget Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who acknowledged the sweep of Tampa Bay in 2020?
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) November 9, 2020
“@Cantguardmike” (we’ll come back to that)
To be fair, Saints had lots of reasons to hype themselves up. They even continued it last week heading into Sunday’s game. Jordan reiterated to NFL Network last week that they didn’t have to worry about neutralizing Brady because he never leaves the pocket and prefaced it by again adding fuel to the fire he likes starting that Brady isn’t the GOAT.
And still, those actions of intimidation led all the way up to right before kickoff where Thomas tried intimidating Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting.
The Buccaneers didn’t let those losses nor the words of Saints players get the best of them as they outplayed them in an even bigger stage.
Brady bested Brees as the Bucs signal caller finished the night 18-for-33 for 199 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and a 92.9 passer rating. The Saints’ veteran passer finished 19-for-34 for 134 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 38.1. #GOATtalk
Evans had three passes thrown his way and had just one reception. But that lone reception was a touchdown catch. On Lattimore. That “luck” Lattimore wished Evans well on happened early “next year” (January 17, 2021).
And as for Thomas with his attempts at sizing up Tampa Bay’s secondary before the game, as James Palmer noted above, was unable to haul in a single reception on four targets (@Cantguardmike). One of those targets resulted in an interception that Thomas was undercut by Murphy-Bunting — the very player Thomas was “mean mugging” before the game.
Oh, and both teams faced off three times. So much for that sweep emoji.
When it mattered the most, the Bucs proved on the field that second place in the division was just fine. Having the opposition talk all they wanted to was fine, too. Heck, even losing both regular season games to New Orleans was of no big deal.
At the end of the day, Tampa Bay focused on letting their actions speak for themselves in the matchup that allowed them to advance to the NFC Championship while Jordan, Lattimore, and Thomas will be watching from the comfort of their homes.