After beating the Washington Football Team last Saturday for the Bucs’ first playoff victory since lifting the Lombardi Trophy in 2003, Tampa Bay answered back in a big way on Sunday with a 30-20 victory over their divisional rivals in the New Orleans Saints to clinch a spot in the NFC Championship next week.
After New Orleans won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, Tampa Bay took over and the Bucs were forced to punt after just three plays. On the return, receiver Deonte Harris forced a missed tackle from gunner Jaydon Mickens and took the return 54 yards, down to the Tampa Bay 21-yard line. Despite excellent starting field position, the Bucs’ defense was able to stand tall and hold New Orleans to just a field goal. The Bucs took the field for a second time and once again failed to find a first down, leaving Harris another chance to make a play on the return for New Orleans. Like déjà vu, Harris brought in the punt, made two Bucs miss and took it to the house for a touchdown, only for the play to be called back to the Saints’ 30-yard line on a block in the back penalty against New Orleans. Quarterback Drew Brees marched the Saints down the field but Tampa Bay made the third-down stop just outside of their own red zone, forcing New Orleans to settle for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Tampa Bay answered with a field goal of their own and on the Saints’ ensuing drive Brees would be intercepted by cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on a pass intended for Michael Thomas, the play returned all the way down to the New Orleans’ three-yard line where the short drive would cash in on a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans on the next play. The Saints took back over and got up to their own 44-yard line before head coach Sean Payton pulled a trick play out of his pocket. With Jameis Winston subbed in and lined up at the wide receiver position and Alvin Kamara lined up at quarterback, Kamara took the snap, handed the ball off to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, Sanders pitched the ball to Winston and the Bucs’ former first overall pick connected with receiver Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown, giving New Orleans a 13-10 lead. The Bucs answered back with another field goal from Succop as time expired in the second quarter and tied the game at 13-13 as the two teams headed to the locker room for halftime.
The Saints would march down the field and Brees would find Smith for his second touchdown of the game, giving New Orleans a 20-13 lead, and it was all Tampa Bay from that point onward. With a touchdown pass to Leonard Fournette, a third field goal from Succop, a rushing touchdown from Brady and interceptions from Devin White and Mike Edwards, the Bucs would score 17 unanswered and hold on to beat the Saints.
With the win over New Orleans, Tampa Bay will head to Green Bay next weekend to play the Packers for a spot in the Super Bowl.