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Brady & Bucs defense lead Tampa to NFC Championship after 19 years

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-20 in the NFC Divisional Round. Here’s the recap from the back-and-forth NFC South rivalry that took place on Sunday evening.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I mean what more can you say about QB Tom Brady? After getting heavily scrutinized this offseason by the media for leaving his home of two decades in the New England Patriots, many questioned why join a 7-9 Bucs team? Brady showed exactly why this regular season as he recorded over 4,600 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes, his highest total in both categories since 2015 (4,770 yards and 36 TDs). Brady, 43, continues to set the standard of dominance at a position where we’ve never seen greatness this long into one's career.

Even though Brady didn’t have his best performance on Sunday evening, the 21-year veteran made the timely throws when he needed to. The more important takeaway from this matchup is that the Bucs were able to get the ground game going early and often. Even though the Bucs WR trio mentioned in the divisional round preview was held to a combined 47 receiving yards and a TD, both RB Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette carried the load on offense as they combined for 125 rushing yards against a tough Saints run defense.

The x-factor in this matchup was the Bucs defense. While they were unable to statistically get a sack on Saints QB Drew Brees, the pressure was there all evening long.

The biggest game changer on the field was no doubt MLB Devin White. White, only in his second season, was all over the field as he recorded a team-high 11 total tackles, an INT, and recovered a fumble late in the 3rd quarter that eventually set up the game tying TD by Fournette.

When the offense would sputter, the Bucs defense backed them up in a big way as it forced four turnovers including three INTs from Brees. These takeaways were momentum changing as it would set up Tampa Bay with great field position as it scored 21 points off of these mistakes by the Saints.

New Orleans Saints

If this is it for QB Drew Brees, what a career by the 42-year-old signal caller.

Most likely a future first ballot Hall of Famer, Brees failed to beat Brady for a third time this season as the Saints came up short yet again in the postseason. Since winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2009, the Saints have failed to get back in seven postseason appearances since winning it all.

Sunday’s performance was definitely a forgetful one for Brees as threw half as many INTs (3) as he did in the entire 2020 season (6). After jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first quarter, the Saints weren’t able to put the Bucs away as it squandered multiple opportunities to put the Bucs on its heels with the four turnovers.

The most puzzling result of Sunday’s game was WR Michael Thomas involvement. One of the best young WR in the game, Thomas was not a factor whatsoever as he had no catches on only four targets. Even though he missed nearly two months this season with an ankle injury, Thomas still managed to play 44-of-63 snaps on Sunday.

The former Ohio State WR even recorded five catches for 73 yards and a TD last week in the Saints wild card win over the Chicago Bears. A truly mind-boggling decision by the Saints coaching staff not to get one of its best offensive weapons involved in a must-win scenario.

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