The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their biggest win of the season when they needed it most in the divisional round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay forced four turnovers and still put up 30 points on the board on the way to a 30-20 victory that sets them up for a showdown in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
LB Devin White
White came out like a man possessed on Sunday, and was the best defensive player on the field for either team. After missing the two previous games while on the reserve/COVID list, White let his pent-up emotion show in his stellar play against New Orleans, leading the team with 11 tackles, a fumble recovery and a momentum-changing interception of Drew Brees.
CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Much maligned this season for his inconsistent play through the regular season, Murphy-Bunting has been excellent in the postseason, nabbing an interception in each game so far in the playoffs. Murphy-Bunting’s interception of Brees in the first half got the Buccaneers in prime scoring position and they took advantage of the turnover, converting it into a touchdown. Murphy-Bunting finished the game with five stops, one tackle for loss, two pass breakups and the aforementioned interception.
G Aaron Stinnie and C Ryan Jensen
The entire offensive line really deserves to be on the list, but Stinnie and Jensen were key contributors that helped propel the Bucs to a win. Stinnie stepped into a tough situation, replacing an injured Alex Cappa in his first NFL start while having to face one of the toughest defensive lines in the NFL. Jensen just dominated all evening, planting Saints players into the artificial turf on a number of occasions and setting the tone for the Bucs to keep quarterback Tom Brady clean for most of the game, while also paving the way for the Bucs to rush for 127 yards in the game.
QB Tom Brady
Brady didn’t throw for 400 yards or four touchdowns, but he took what the Saints gave him, managed the game extremely well and made the timely throws when needed. You can’t underestimate the impact Brady has had all season, but particularly in the playoffs so far where he elevates everyone around him to believe they are good enough to win it all. For the game Brady finished 18-of-33 for 199 yards, two passing scores and one on the ground, but maybe just as importantly, no turnovers.
RBs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones
What a difference from the last game against the Saints in Week 9. In that game the Buccaneers ran for just eight yards on only five attempts. This game the duo combined for 125 yards and while neither had any huge plays, both ran hard, keeping the Saints defense honest and off balance. Fournette ended up with 63 yards on 17 carries to go along with five receptions for 44 yards and a TD reception. Jones, still nursing a sore quad, came in and contributed 62 yards on 13 carries.
DC Todd Bowles
We said all week the Buccaneers defense would have to do things completely different than they did in the two previous meetings against Brees and the Saints offense, and his game plan was nothing like we saw in those two games – or really over the last half of the season. Tampa Bay came out playing more aggressively, with more press-man coverage from the start. Bowles defense held the high-powered Saints to just 294 yards while also forcing four turnovers.
Honorable Mention: K Ryan Succop, CB Carlton Davis, S Antoine Winfield Jr.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org