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Turnovers Doom Saints in 30-20 Loss to the Bucs in the NFC Divisional Playoffs

Not the send-off the Saints had envisioned for Drew Brees

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line, the New Orleans Saints were welcoming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the second time in the 2020-2021 NFL season. This was the third meeting overall between the team, with the Saints having won the first two games in the regular season. Now, in the divisional round of the playoffs, New Orleans was trying to pull off the feat of beating a Tom Brady-led team three times in the same season. On the other end of the game with a win, a date with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field.

The Saints started the game well, with returner Deonte Harris providing an early spark with dynamite returns. The Saints’ offense however could not take advantage, and the game was tied at 13 at halftime.

The Saint would eventually take a 20-13 lead in the third quarter, and when it looked like they were about to take the momentum over for good, a fumble by Jared Cook gave Tampa Bay life back. The Bucs would tie the game at 20, and score the next 10 points on the back on two interceptions by Drew Brees.

The Saints’ defense held its own, but eventually broke, mostly due to the inability of its offense to sustain drives. In the end, the Buccaneers deservedly won 30-20, depriving Drew Brees of the NFC Championship Game, but also of a second Super Bowl appearance.

With reports that this might have been Brees’ final game in the NFL, the Saints are likely on the brink of a new era, something we haven’t consistently seen since 2006: the team without Drew Brees under center. This is a story for another day, for now, the 2020 season ends in disappointment for New Orleans, but it was still a successful year for the quadruple NFC South defending champions. Just not as good as it could have been.


Here is how the game unfolded:


First Quarter

The Saints win the coin toss and defer to the second half, with Tampa Bay starting at their 25-yard line. The Bucs go three-and-out and on the ensuing punt, Deonte Harris returns the ball 54 yards to the Bucs’ 20-yard line.

The Saints get deeper into the red zone via a penalty on the Bucs. The Saints would eventually stall and settle for a 23-yard field goal by Wil Lutz.

NO: 3 - TB: 0

On the Bucs’ second drive, Tampa Bay goes three-and-out once again, with Brady getting sacked by linebacker Demario Davis on third down. Deonte Harris returns the punt for a touchdown, but the score is nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty on Justin Hardee. Saints retain the ball, starting at their 30-yard line.

The Saints get into Bucs’ territory on two runs plays by Alvin Kamara, New Orleans gets to the Bucs’ 25-yard line but stall and Wil Lutz adds a 42-yard field goal.

NO: 6 - TB: 0

The Bucs would take the ball at their 25-yard line and go for it on 4th-and-1 from their 34-yard line and convert with a sneak. The Bucs continue their drive into Saints’ territory and are driving as the quarter ends.


Second Quarter

The Bucs get into the Saints’ red zone on the 12th play of their drive and eventually stall at the Saints’ 9-yard line, settling for a Ryan Succop 26-yard field goal.

NO: 6 - TB: 3

The Saints take the ball at their 25-yard line, and gain a first down. On 2nd-and-9, Drew Brees throws an interception, which Sean Murphy-Bunting returns to the Saints’ 3-yard line.

On the ensuing play, Tom Brady finds Mike Evans for a touchdown, the first of the game.

NO: 6 - TB: 10

Saints take the ball at their 25-yard line and after a few plays, Jameis Winston gets into the game, the Saints design a reverse play with Alvin Kamara, Emmanuel Sanders and Winston eventually finding Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown. Sean Payton going into his bag of tricks early. The 56-yard pass was the longest pass play for the Saints in the 2020 season.

NO: 13 - TB: 10

The Bucs take over at their 25-yard line, go three-and-out and punt the ball away. The Saints are pinned down inside their 10-yard line to start their drive. New Orleans finds a way out of its own end, but stall near midfield and punt.

Bucs take the ball at their 18-yard line and face a 3rd-and-7 at the two minute warning. Tampa Bay converts and gets into Saints territory. The Bucs get inside the red zone on short throws by Tom Brady. Tampa Bay eventually settles for a 37-yard field goal attempt, which Ryan Succop converts to tie the game at halftime.

NO: 13 - TB: 13



Third Quarter

Saints start the quarter at their 25-yard line. New Orleans gets into Tampa Bay’s territory on a run by Alvin Kamara and get into the red zone on a pass to Ty Montgomery. On 2nd-and-10 from the Bucs’ 16-yard line, Drew Brees finds Tre’Quan Smith for a touchdown, Brees’ first of the game.

NO: 20 - TB: 13

Bucs take over at their 25-yard line, Tampa Bay gains one first down but stalls and punts. Saints take over at their 15-yard line. New Orleans’ drive is extended by a penalty on Sean Murphy-Bunting. Brees finds Jared Cook for a gain into Bucs’ territory, but Antoine Winnfield Jr. forces a fumble that is recovered by Devin White and returned to the Saints’ 40-yard line.

Bucs quickly get inside the Saints’ red zone. On 3rd-and-5, Tom Brady finds Leonard Fournette for a touchdown. So far in this game, the Saints are letting the Buccaneers off the mat.

NO: 20 - TB: 20

Saints take over at their 25-yard line and gain a first down via penalty. Their fifth first down via penalty in the game. The Saints eventually cannot gain another first down and have to punt.

Buccaneers take over at their 21-yard line and rush for 6 yards as the quarter ends.


Fourth Quarter

The Bucs run for 44 yards into Saints’ territory, but are called for holding, which sets them back. Tampa Bay converts a 3rd-and-11 to keep their drive alive. Tom Brady finds Scotty Miller for 29 yards to the Saints’ 31-yard line. Bucs get into the Saints’ red zone, but stall and Ryan Succop makes a 36-yard field goal.

NO: 20 - TB: 23

Saints take over at their 25-yard line, and after gaining a first down, Drew Brees throws his second interception of the game, Devin White returns it to the Saints’ 20-yard line.

Tampa Bay gets into the red zone and from the one-yard line, Brady sneaks into the end zone for a touchdown.

NO: 20 - TB: 30

Saints take over at their 25-yard line. on the fourth play of the drive, the Buccaneers intercept Brees for the third time on a pass intended for the awful Jared Cook who tips the ball in the air before it is picked near midfield.

Buccaneers drive the ball mixing in the run and key passes and close the game out, winning 30-20.